Munesh Khanna’s first overseas trip was to Geneva in 1985. While he had several requests to bring chocolates back home, he brought with him something quite different altogether. The first of what would be a sizeable collection of matchboxes. For a hobby that began for no apparent reason, today Khanna is the proud owner of some 5,500 matchboxes.
Before anything, Khanna, who has been an investment banker for at least two decades, clarifies he is not a smoker. “Yes, I like the occasional cigar but that’s pretty much it,” he says. So, what explains the meticulously arranged matchboxes in large glass jars and cupboards? “It really started when I began spotting them in bars and restaurants when I was travelling. I was amused about how different matchboxes were depending on which country one was in,” he explains.
Given Khanna’s high-profile assignments in large companies like Arthur Andersen and NM Rothschild, he has travelled across the world. Ask him where one gets the best matchboxes and you get an interesting answer. “Nothing like the ones in Europe, they have a certain style to them,” says the 49-year-old who is currently senior partner with Grant Thornton. Each of the matchboxes has the date on which it was bought and the name of the city as well. One look at the ones from Europe and you realise they are colourful and very interesting because of the acceptable use of the invective. There are some that are as large as chocolate boxes with matches neatly stacked in various compartments.
Khanna’s tastefully done up seaside bungalow in Mumbai’s upmarket Juhu has a remarkably eclectic collection of books and music. The matchboxes are placed in three large glass cupboards. The special ones are stored in jars that look like old-fashioned pickle jars. “It is difficult to source matchboxes today. There are too many no-smoking areas and most smokers use lighters,” he says with some regret.
If that is true, Khanna could end up making a fortune if matchboxes go extinct. “This is just a pursuit with no intention to monetise,” he says with a glint. For the uninitiated, this is quite different from collecting stamps or maps, which calls for greater attention and even some running costs. In contrast, Khanna hasn’t paid more than €2 for a box. “The only hitch is they get a little moist during the rains,” he points out. The best place to look for a matchbox is the hotel room. Khanna himself confesses to pinching quite a few and says there are antique shops in Europe that sell very affordable matchboxes. “In the past, airlines like Pan Am gave matchboxes away. That never takes place today,” he says.
Khanna’s collection is large and continues to grow. He was gifted 2,000 matchboxes by a relative a few years ago, but he is not aware of an association of people who collect matchboxes. He points out that ITC apparently has a large collection in its Kolkata office. “I have only heard of it and have never seen it. In the UK, antique stores have albums of matchboxes,” says Khanna. With a collection as large as his, it could just be time for him to have one of his own.