Life & Style

A doll’s house

  • Indira Dali’s doll collection numbers in the thousands, and she is willing to give it all away
- Asmita Manandhar, Kathmandu

Feb 15, 2019-

When Indira Dali was living in Osaka, Japan, every other evening, she would walk around town looking for dolls, miniature figurines and tiny teacup sets. The next morning, when she would excitedly show off her new dolls to her friends, they would sigh, as it meant that she had skipped dinner to make her purchases.

This was in 1983, when the 70-year-old Dali was in Osaka training as a librarian. This, however, wasn’t when her fascination for miniatures began. In fact, she can’t remember when the attraction started and when exactly she began her extensive doll collection. But in conversation, inklings emerge as to why she began collecting them.

When growing up, Dali was very close to her father and as an introvert, her only childhood friend was a doll her mother had put together from spare fabric.

“When I was 11-years-old, my father left us for a new family,” says Dali with tears in her eyes. “I was so heartbroken. I felt that dolls are far better than human beings.”

This traumatic incident might have sparked her doll collection but her perspective has since evolved. Always introspective, she began to explore her own fascination with dolls, and as a librarian, researched doll collectors from around the world. Along with her collection of dolls, she also has a folder where she has compiled research from various books, journals and encyclopaedias--all attempting to explain the psychology behind collectors and why they collect the things they do.

The smallest dolls in Dali’s collection that are the size of a rice grain.

“Dolls aren’t just toys, they represent the culture, tradition and ethnicity of a country or community from a certain time period,” says Dali. Her collection also serves as a reminder of her travels around the world, as she has never failed to bring back a souvenir.

Showcased inside a massive cupboard, specifically made to accommodate her collection, in her home at Sanepa Height, Lalitpur, Dali’s collection consists of thousands of miniatures, ranging from ones that stand 11-15 inches in height to ones that are the size of a rice grain. Dali has lost count of how many pieces she has, but she clearly remembers when and where she acquired each piece--whether it was purchased or gifted and which community or nationality its attire represents. There are dolls from around 50 countries, all sorted neatly according to where they came from.

The eldest of five sisters, Dali is a graduate in both public administration and library sciences. She is a retired Tribhuvan University librarian, but continues to actively volunteer at various institutions, including a children’s library at Sanepa, which she founded with the help of her neighbours. The library hosts local children from all backgrounds without any charges, and holds after-school activities for the neighbourhood kids.

When her father left them, her mother and her siblings struggled a lot to survive, as her father was the sole breadwinner of the family then, says Dali. “I did not come from a privileged background where I could just buy a collection of dolls and decorate it in my house. But I was always independent and catered to my hobby by minimising or cutting off from my other basic needs,” she says.

For Dali, her doll collection was also born out of her love for art. In fact, she has a collection of religious idols, although she is an atheist by her own account. “I value the artists’ work in these idols rather than the religious values they may hold,” she says

Dali’s miniature cup-plate set against a normal set. (Right) Dali’s collection of dolls from around the world including religious statues.

Dali’s miniature cup-plate set against a normal set. (Right) Dali’s collection of dolls from around the world including religious statues.

Apart from dolls and statues of religious figures, another interesting set in her collection are her miniature kitchens. She has at least three kitchen play-sets, which include kitchen cabinets, mock electrical appliances such as fridges and microwave ovens, dining table sets, cooking utensils, crockeries and cutleries. All of these are neatly put-together inside different cupboard compartments, each making for a separate miniature kitchen space. Some of these compartments are accompanied by miniature bedrooms and bathroom sets--a complete doll’s house.

Dali also has a compartment dedicated to birds and animals, religious idols, vintage pens and miniature books. Some of these are labelled as well. “I would want to label everything if I had enough time. It’s a big feat even to clean and dust them regularly,” says Dali.

Although by her own account, she would like to manage her collection better, her skill as a librarian is evident in the management of her collection. Arranged according to the type, size and theme, her collection is immaculate—each and every section attracts the viewer’s attention.  

As word has spread among her family and friends about her dolls and figurines, she has also been receiving gifts to add to her collection. One of her most treasured dolls is a vintage one, presented to her by an American friend. “This was my mother’s doll. It is probably Swedish, made before 1930,” says the note that came with the doll.

Dali’s prized cupboard, however, still cannot accommodate everything in her collection. “The rest are in these boxes,” she says, pointing to a stack of shoeboxes beside the cupboard. She regularly opens the boxes to clean her collection and hopes to manage another cupboard to serve as a permanent home for her boxed dolls.

But this doll collector is not as attached to her collection as it might seem. For Dali, the value of her collection seems to lie in its usage. And so, she is willing to donate her entire collection to a national children’s library if the government ever decides to establish one and guarantee its usage to educate, inform and inspire children.

Published: 15-02-2019 08:57

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