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Indian expat Sajid Nottiparambil with his calling card collection Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: When Indian driver Sajid Notti Parambil, 44, started packing his belongings a few days ago to bid goodbye to Dubai yesterday (December 16), his roommates at a staff accommodation in Muhaisnah, Dubai, got the shock of their life.

They knew that Sajid was a collector of different items and they used to also help him with his hobby. However, they were surprised when he started pulling out the collectibles that he had racked up in a cupboard in the room shared by seven.

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The telephone card that Sajid loves the most is the one with anti drug messages in different languages Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

They saw more than 4,000 telephone cards that included calling cards used at public pay phones decades ago, among other rare ones. There were around 400 room key cards of hotels where Sajid had never stayed and several hundreds of brand stickers peeled off from fruits. A portion of his coin collection, which weighs 30kg in total and includes coins from 190 countries according to Sajid, was also part of his treasure trove that he had kept safe in their accommodation for several years.

“We never knew his collection is so huge and rare,” Sajid’s roommate Suman Sugathan who contacted Gulf News to share his story. The roommates helped him pack his collection neatly to send them to his hometown in the south Indian state of Kerala on Tuesday.

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Calling cards used in pay phone booths also figure in Sajid's collection Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Treasure tales

So how did Sajid start this collection? The man himself opened up about his hobby and said: “I used to collect matchbox labels since my childhood and had a huge collection back home. When I came over here, I was around 20 years old and I couldn’t continue with it. Hence, I decided to start collecting telephone cards.”

He said he also continued with his hobby of coin collection, which he had started in 1990, even after coming over to Dubai in 1995. Over the past 25 years, he has been building up his ‘treasure trove’ — which he considers as his biggest asset — with the help of people from different walks of life.

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Image Credit: Virendra Sakilani/Gulf News

“I first worked as a school bus driver at a school at its old campus in Oud Mehta for nine years. Several students and teachers used to get me telephone cards from different countries. I also used to give cards from my collection to students who were making their own collection,” he recollected.

Sajid got more chances to collect cards and coins when he got the job as an airport bus driver ferrying passengers and crew members in 2004.

Documenting history, diversity

Sajid said the telephone cards had designs that spoke volumes about the culture, heritage, architecture, people and flora and fauna of the UAE. The calling cards used in public pay phones showed a message printed on them: ‘No matter how far you may be from home, call. They really miss you.’ A message that would melt the hearts of old-time expats who might have waited in queues to hear the voices and the news of their loved ones back home. “There are also cards that are printed in a series. Birds, butterflies, traditional clothes, festivals, national days, paintings ... the designs are diverse.”

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Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Being an avid bird watcher, Sajid loves the “bird series” the most and the card that has won his heart is the one with a message on it in Malayalam — his mother tongue. “It has a design to spread awareness against drugs. People of various backgrounds are seen saying ‘No to Drugs’. One placard shown in the card is written in Malayalam. It made me very happy. I consider it as a recognition to the huge number of Keralites here,” said Sajid.

New hobbies, dreams

He said it is from the airport that he started the collection of hotel key cards. “Captains and crew members, who knew about my hobby, used to gift me hotel key cards from various countries. I found them very interesting. Some of the airport staff members also used to give me telephone cards,” Sajid said, remembering with gratitude everyone who contributed to his collection.

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Fruit stickers from Sajid's collection Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

“I used to go to telephone booths and pick up the cards earlier. I had even been to Buraimi five times just to collect telephone cards from Oman,” he said. When telecom companies stopped printing cards in a move to go green, Sajid started collecting stickers peeled off fruits. “It is a fun hobby. They have nice logos and designs.”

Now that he had to say goodbye to Dubai after losing his job due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sajid said he would try to hold an exhibition of his collection back home. This is a gift to my only child, my nine-year-old daughter, and wife, who is a teacher at a school for visually impaired children. I would be happy to exhibit my collection back home and get some recognition. I hope I can return to Dubai soon and get a job here again. Maybe then, I can hold an exhibition of my collection here too,” said Sajid.

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Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News