Ashely plays his violin even at midnight. In fact, his neighbourhood admirers wait for him to play. It was his love for music that started him on his enduring romance with antiques. When one of his brothers sold his grandfather's old piano for want of space in the house, Ashely began his search for a replacement and ended up collecting antiques.

The urge to possess them is irresistible, he says. “They evoke nostalgia and traditions. Collecting and maintaining vintage items in itself is an art. It needs passion, patience, money and taste.”

Ashely owns about 25 gramophones, spool recorders and radiograms of HMV, EMI, and Philips. He likes to listen to his collection of Jim Reeves and hymns on these machines, some of which are a century old. He also has a collection of 16 rpm records, 78 rpm extended records and paper and colour records.

“It is remarkable how old-fashioned objects live through the blitzkrieg of technology, gaining in charm as the years move by, giving us the simple joy of remembering the past and ticketing us to walk down memory lane,” he says, playing Thiagaraja Bhagavathar on an English gramophone.

Ashely has about 10 cameras from the 1950s, half-a-dozen old projectors, wall clocks and nine old bikes including Yezdi and Jawa bikes. He even keeps the road tax and insurance on those bikes up to date.

But it is as an inventor that this retired auto instructor from Pasumalai Higher Secondary School has been known since the 1960s. His neighbours call him a scientist. “I had extracted electricity from potatoes. Then it was difficult to do because I did not have circuit boards and so I had to solder them by getting equipment from Mumbai and few from Madurai,” he says.

His house has lights that go on and off when their sensors tell them the sunlight has changed. He made this arrangement for safety, he says. Even when the family is away, the lights give the impression that somebody is at home.

Everywhere, doors open on cue and lights switch on automatically. His electronic lab bristles with wires, bulbs, soldering irons, switches, and remotes. Among the gadgets he has made mainly for his children are sensor-based machines housed in cardboard boxes. To demonstrate, he inserts his palm inside one box and a rupee coin falls into his hand. From another box he gets talcum powder and coconut oil. A third box fills a tumbler with water, while music plays.

Ashely made the water dispenser when the doctor advised his elder son to drink more water. As each tumbler is filled, the machine gives out music and a clapping sound. It encouraged the child to drink more and cured his medical problem.

What he considers special about his work is that he converted everything from DC voltage to AC, which is 100 per cent shock proof. He also made most of his stuff from waste materials.

Ashely feels lucky his wife Ruth and sons Bertie and Mervyn ardently support his venture. After retirement, he is busy with his inventions, without regrets about not making big money. “I had lot of offers and opportunities, but still I did not want to commercialize my inventions,” he says. “Money is not life and money is not the yardstick to measure success.

They evoke nostalgia and traditions. Collecting and maintaining vintage items in itself is an art. It needs passion, patience, money and taste