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Largest collection of ancient locks

Raghunathan has perhaps the country's most comprehensive and rare collection of old and antique locks. Televised and written about widely, the collection also features in one of the Limca Books of Records (2000). Every lock in the collection, numbering about 600, with each lock in working order, is different.

Most of the locks in the 24-year collection, display a rare genius for deception. These could easily be called mechanical puzzles. Opening some of these locks, even with all the keys available, will strain the best lateral thinking brains. Many of them display a rare understanding of spatial and topological principles in their design. Others display a serious and scholarly bent of mind. Yet others display their religious fervour or patriotism or plain joy of artistic creation, quite apart from mind-boggling variety in technological innovations, adaptations and variations in different principles of locking mechanisms.

Further, there is a staggering range of sizes in the collection. They range from one that weighs no more than 5 grams to one that weighs 30 kgs. The longest is over 3.5 ft in length while the smallest is about half a centimeter.

Even when it comes to shapes there is an unimaginable variety. You might mistake some of them for weapons! Then there are many that are shaped as icons - ranging from Gods to mere mortals. The animal-shaped ones in the collection include lions, dogs, elephants, horses, camels, deer, fish, cows, scorpions and mythical creatures, like the one that looks like a cross between a leopard and an elephant! Then there are the fanciful shapes, which the craftsman must have really enjoyed creating: a lock shaped like a revolver, like a fruit, a bucket, a pot and so on.

Then of course, comes the crux - a variety of trick locks --the variations in the ways in which the locks open. There is this fascinating lock that requires five keys to open it. There are others that require four keys; three keys or two keys, to get them opened. There are some that one would not be able to open even if one had the key or keys, because one would not be able to find the keyhole to begin with! Or the keyhole that one sees is a false one! Or else the procedure for opening the lock may involve several secret steps. Or one in which a key opens a passage for the next key, which in turn opens up yet another passage for yet another key and so on. 

There are other unusual locks too. For instance, a lock for which a key has to be inserted inside another key to open the lock! There is the one that opens with one key and closes with another; or the one that opens from one side but closes from the other. Then there is a lock that rings a bell as it is opened. A fascinating one is a copper combination lock, which has a number of discs. Each disc carries an Arabic inscription - either a letter or a phrase. It appears that any combination of the discs yields an Arabic couplet and one particular couplet opens the lock. Then there are locks with two shackles (or hooks), i.e.; they hang from a specially designed bolts on a door.


1 The wake up alarm - Financial express, Bombay dated February 10, 1991   pdf
2 The candle extinguisher - Financial express, Bombay dated February 17, 1991 pdf
3 Trapping a rat - Financial Express, Bombay, dated February 24, 1991 pdf
4 The balloon blower - Financial Express, Bombay, dated March 3, 1991 pdf
5 Automatic window closers - Financial Express, Bombay, dated March 10, 1991 pdf
6 The wet ear drier - Financial Express, Bombay, dated March 17, 1991 pdf
7 The burglar alarm - Financial Express, Bombay, dated April 7, 1991 pdf
8 The morning tea-maker - Financial Express, Bombay, dated April 14, 1991 pdf
9 The rail-crossing system - Financial Express, Bombay, dated April 21, 1991 pdf
10 The wet ear drier - Financial Express, Bombay, dated April 28, 1991 pdf
11 The egg boiler pdf
12 The nail driver pdf
13 Harnessing Appropriate Technology pdf
14 Catching an owl pdf
15 Working a fly swatter pdf
16 The toffee unwrapper pdf
17 The bath soap retriever pdf


I must have been reasonably good with drawing very early. I recall that when I was just seven, studying in class four, my class teacher in a school called Luthra Academy in Jammu (where I did my early schooling), wanted to cash in on my early "prowess"! She was pursuing her B.Ed. and apparently had some project work to do in the form of some chart work. Her work called for a hand-drawn picture of the then President Dr. Radhakrishnan. Having spotted my aptitude for drawing passable this and that, she asked me if I would draw Radha Krishan (the good Punjabi lady wasn't particular about the ending "an's" of south Indians or where to break a south Indian name. In my little head, I heard her pronouncing the President in two syllables as Radha and Krishan. This to me meant Lord Krishna and his consort! This I thought easy to draw. All I had to do was draw a bare-bodied and long haired youth with a peacock feather on a smallish crown with a flute stuck in his hips cavorting around a rather Japanese style tree with a young girl in Rajasthani like costume! Now who at that age doesn't want the Class Teacher to owe him one? So I readily jumped at the opportunity. The next thing I know, she produced a tiny colour picture (a cut out) of the President for me to draw! I was in panic. And yet my ego will not allow me to confess my misunderstanding! What is worse, I was supposed to blow up the picture a good deal! I went home in some consternation, but managed the feat by the next day nevertheless! A passable President, if you didn't quibble about details or weren't an immediate relative of the great man! And my unpretentious career in drawing figures was launched, culminating in winning an open-Calcutta sketching competition in the seventies! After that somehow my doctoral work, career and things took over and I haven't put pencil to paper! But I intend to return to it one day!


Chess BoardI took to chess very early in life. My mom was the first one to gift me a beautiful little chess board (I still have it, with a few of the men missing!) when I was about 8. Perhaps she had figured that I played that game with a little more verve than any other. I must have been good, because by the time I was graduating (I was only 17), I was playing chess at all India level. I was playing chess with such passion that I was logging about 6 hours a day! And then it was time to take a call! Further academia and career or chess! No prizes for guessing which one won out! So now chess is just a lingering memory. But it is something I have not struck off my hobbies list since I intend to pursue it with gusto some time again in life!

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