Sowmiya Ashok watches ‘Dusty' as he gives shape to his little dreams
“Ah! The most important thing is that…” comes minutes after he knits his forehead to concentrate on what could be relevant to readers in the city. “I made a kit of the Emden,” he says, pausing to make sure you are on the same page. With a widening of the eyes, he marks his disappointment, and then proceeds to don the hat of a storyteller to tell you about the German cruiser that sent residents of Chennai scurrying in fear when it bombed the city during World War I.
“The Emden had the reputation of disguising itself as a merchant ship and this way it would destroy ships in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean,” he continues, letting images of the deep blue sea, ships with high sails and bombs linger in your mind.
Meet R.K. Dastur, who convinces you to call him “Dusty” within the first five minutes of knowing him. He is the proud owner of over 200 miniature models of vintage cars, sports bikes, aircrafts and ships, which have been handcrafted by him over 25 years.
While many may be proud owners of models they have handcrafted, what marks Dusty's achievement is the way he has surmounted disability – the paralysis he suffered in 1985 as a result of an allergic reaction to a vaccine, leaving him with no control of his hands. “I have no control except for my thumb and index finger in my right hand. I use forceps as an extra hand to grip small parts when I make models,” says the 79-year-old, who is confined to a wheelchair.
He proceeds to tell you how he chooses to make models of only those things that are of interest to people. “Sadly, people are not so interested in making models but are more interested in buying readymade models.”
The Titanic, Skylab, Moon lander and the Maharaja of Jodhpur's Rolls Royce are products of this desire to make models of icons that have an interesting story attached to them. His familiarity with cars and bikes, fuels his eagerness to jump instructions landing him in trouble more often than not. “Maha trouble man, if you don't follow instructions,” he says, laughing. “When I take shortcuts, I end up having to dismantle the model and start over.”
There is one thing that Dusty wants to learn to make – and a model of it sits snugly in his living room. “I have always wanted to make a boat in a bottle,” he says, pointing to a gift that reached him from Cochin. “But these fingers don't work, what can I do?”
A quarter-size transparent V8 engine is another quirky addition to his collection. But if it's not his models that hold your attention, his stories of working on a tea estate in the Niligiri hills put up a stiff competition.