"We used to call this one the ‘Dubboo’,” says an excited visitor at the Art in Coinage exhibition at the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Museum. She was pointing to a squarish coin which resembled the old discontinued Pakistani five-paisa coin, only it was much older than that.
Writer and poet Zeenat Kausar Lakhani and her family were visiting the exhibition which opened last month in the Archives and Art Gallery. She had a story from her childhood about several of the coin replicas on display. “The Dubboo was not as light as the five-paisa coin. It was made of a nice, weighty silver metal and it was a two-paisa sikka [coin], which happened to be the daily pocket allowance for me and my four brothers,” she says.
“I remember standing in line with my brothers before heading off to school as our Abba [father] handed each of us the money. It went a long way, too, as every day I managed to buy myself whatever I fancied during recess, such as my favourite bitter-sweet fruit drops or peanuts,” she recalls. “My older brother would sometimes act greedily and take another brother’s Dubboo to double his own allowance. Two Dubboos made one aana,” she adds nostalgically.
A grand exhibition of Pakistani coins through the ages at the State Bank Museum strikes a nostalgic chord with many
Abdul Jabbar Gull, the artist behind the exhibition, says that while preparing for it he got to hear lots of such stories. “Senior officers of the State Bank were taken back to their childhood days where they connected with one coin or the other,” he says.
The exhibition is a documentation of the history of the State Bank through its coins. There are 25 coins that have been replicated in wood by Gull and put up on three-by-three feet panels. The surfaces of the coins have been treated with metallic paint, with a coat of lacquer.
“Sadly, the younger generation doesn’t know much about these coins and looks at them with childlike eyes as they listen to the stories from their elders in awe,” Gull adds.
Dr Asma Ibrahim, the director of the State Bank of Pakistan Museum, Archives and Art Gallery, has her own childhood memories associated with some of the coin replicas on display. “I used to get a gleaming three aana for my school lunch money from which I could buy myself biscuits or churran [a bitter-sweet spice concoction] from the rehrri wala [vendor] outside my school’s gates,” she tells Eos.
“My father had calculated my entire monthly allowance, which came to around 3.75 rupees, and I used to receive it in instalments in coins,” Ibrahim adds.
It took Gull around four months to prepare for the exhibition. Previously, he had done a huge mural of 45 coins which currently hangs over the entrance of State Bank’s Learning Resource Centre. It measures 18ft in height and 24ft in width. That project was initiated in November 2004, and was finalised in April 2005. “It was the idea of the then State Bank Governor Dr Ishrat Hussain, who wanted something significant for the bank,” says Dr Ibrahim.
“We ran a competition for the mural idea and Gull was selected through it by a committee back in 2004,” she adds.
While working on the big mural back then, Gull couldn’t help but think about the artists and designers who originally designed the coins. “I always wanted to acknowledge and pay homage to those originally responsible for designing and producing the coins,” he says. “I have done many sculpture and painting exhibitions both here and internationally but this exhibition is very special for me,” he adds.
Talking about coins that we have in use today, Dr Ibrahim says, “The Pakistan Mint or the coin press in Lahore is in a really bad condition now. You can tell by the condition and poor design of new coins that they don’t have artists and engravers.”
“When the economic condition of a country was not strong, they used debased coins. After the coins, there are the notes, which were introduced in our region by the British rulers who took over from the Moghuls,” says Dr Ibrahim.
“In the olden days, coins used to be made out of pure gold, silver or copper. You could tell the economic condition of the ruler of a country by looking at their coins, like the great Moghuls of India used such coin currency. Look at the one or two Euro coins and you can just tell how strong that currency is.
“Today, even the five-rupee coin seems to have no value,” reflects poet Lakhani. “Why, recently when I handed a five-rupee coin to a beggar on the street, he just chucked it back at my face through my car window. And I thought of the days when we used to value even our two paisas,” she laughs.
The writer is a member of staff
She tweets @HasanShazia
Published in Dawn, EOS, April 28th, 2019