Prakash and Punita have now spent over RM200,000 on their purchases from all over Malaysia with more than 200 of the pieces dating back to the 1900s
by KENNY TENG KHOON HOCK/ pic by BERNAMA
A HUSBAND and wife from Penang whose hobby is collecting tiffin carriers want to start a museum in service of its fascinating history.
J Prakash, 41, and wife M Punita, 40, said they have now spent over RM200,000 on their purchases from all over Malaysia with more than 200 of the pieces dating back to the 1900s.
They have produced a book explaining their collection and the history of the tiffin carrier which is an object familiar to many communities.
“We plan to launch our book, ‘Tiffin, The Untold Story’, to celebrate more than 200 years of history and the evolution of the tiffin carrier. After the launch of the book, our next plan is to set up a museum to display our collection and enlighten the younger generation,” he told Bernama.
He said tiffin carriers have sentimental value, with every family long ago having those that bore the family name or design.
It is said that the tiffin tradition began in India in the 18th century during the British colonial rule and referred to a light meal. Later, it evolved to describe a packed lunch delivery service in the country by tiffin wallahs.
The couple, who earned a place in the Malaysia Book of Records in 2014 for their collection which numbered 192, said they never intended to become collectors until the day they decided to buy a tiffin carrier to display in their kitchen.
“When we moved to our house in Jalan Samak, Georgetown in 2007, we just wanted some antiques to display in our home, so we bought an enamel tiffin carrier. Who would have thought that would spark a love for it,” he said.
He said his liking for it grew after delving into its past and discovering that most of the ones in his collection are from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary and Austria.
He said in the past, they were made from enamel and brass, with the couple’s collection having four- and six-tier antique tiffin towers embossed with a floral design and Malay wordings like “Slamat Makan” (Please Eat), “Slamat Pakkey” (Please Use), “Slamat Untong” (Happy Prospering), “Slamat Bukka” (Happy Opening) and “Slamat Angkat” (Happy Carrying).
“Tiffin makers were very creative and designed the carrier based on the user’s need. I have a tiffin carrier with a kettle at the top, there’s one with a chopsticks holder and another that can be padlocked,” said Prakash, who works as a Penang Hindu Endowment Board administrative officer, while Punita is a staff nurse at the Penang General Hospital.
One of his favourites is a Baba Nyonya tiffin carrier from Melaka that was specially ordered from Czechoslovakia in 1930 with a gold-plated top.
“It doesn’t matter whether the tiffin carrier was used by people of high status or common folk, it is a symbol of our cultural heritage where family was held in high regard.
“Imagine how beautiful it is when a family gathers for a meal,” he said as he showed an 8kg metal tiffin carrier with a mini-coal stove that was over a century old. — Bernama