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This Army veteran makes trading cards with cricketers’ caricatures

Vembu Shankar

Vembu Shankar   | Photo Credit: Viditi Ajeet Saxena

In an era of selfies, Chennai-based Vembu Shankar is attempting to bring back into vogue the concept of collecting autographs on trading cards

In 2015, when news broke that Brazilian football legend Pele was coming to Kolkata, football fans all over the country were thrilled. One of them was Colonel Vembu Shankar (Retired), a Chennai-based Army veteran.

Shankar’s primary hobby is collecting autographs from famous people, and he was determined to gain an audience with Pele. He got an artist to work on the footballer’s caricature, learnt a bit of Portugese, and ensured he was at the airport when Pele arrived.

“I called out to him in Portugese, and wished him a happy birthday, since the day was around the corner,” recalls Shankar. It helped as Pele spotted him from among a sea of people. Shankar waved the caricature at the footballer, and it caught his eye. Today, he greatly treasures that caricature which has the autograph of Pele on it.

He wishes that younger sports fans too get into this hobby, which, he says, was “mighty popular” in pre-selfie days. Since the cricket World Cup is on, to encourage young fans, Shankar — via his not-for-profit venture — has recently launched a pack of 50 trading cards that fans could make use of to gain the attention of cricketers, and help in getting their autographs.

“Caricatures always intrigued me. Cartoons and traditional portraits are usually given a lot of importance in India, but caricatures are not given their due,” says Shankar, who started out collecting autographs on match tickets and posters. The situation upset him so much that he decided to do something about it. He started commissioning caricatures from artists across the country, and used them to get autographs.

The pack of trading cards with cricketers’ caricatures

The pack of trading cards with cricketers’ caricatures   | Photo Credit: Viditi Ajeet Saxena

One such caricature of Chennai Super Kings skipper MS Dhoni by Shijo Varghese managed to catch the cricketer’s attention. Dhoni then suggested Shankar and Shijo work on a caricature-driven book on Team India’s 2011 World Cup triumph, and another one, later, on the Chennai Super Kings.

The duo kept preparing such books until Shankar came across Mumbai-based caricature artist, Austin Coutinho. Shankar and Coutinho have since collaborated on other projects, but for the World Cup they wanted to something else other than a book. This led them to the idea of creating trading cards, a concept still popular in the West.

“Trading cards have always been a favoured collectible for memorabilia collectors and sports fans. These cards have been in existence since the late 19th Century. Those days the cards were distributed by sporting goods manufacturers,” says Shankar.

A lot of curation later, Shankar and Coutinho’s idea has now turned into trading cards featuring the caricatures of 50 World Cup winners. But they still couldn’t involve all of the players.

“The aim of this exercise is for people to collect autographs on the cards, and so we have included all 29 Indian players from the triumphant teams of 1983 and 2011 in the pack,” says Shankar, who boasts a personal collection of over 10,000 celebrity autographs.

The limited edition cards, presented in a specially-designed tin box, are priced at ₹600, and can be ordered on

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 11:15:32 PM |

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