Still glued to the stamps

More than a hobby As we observe National Postal Week this week, Shruthi Srinath learns about various initiatives in the State that have made philatel

Still glued to the stamps

As stamps were born in countries around the globe, and wore colours and diverse themes, they let people in billions exchange messages. Their first use was just practical, yes. But when stamps left the corner of the letter and travelled into the hearts of people, they opened the world of philately (phi-lat-ly). Frenchman George Herpin thought of this word first when he bridged the Greek words ‘philos’ — love and ‘ateleia’ — that which is tax-free.

 “Stamps are issued to spread messages of great people, and of peace and love. They are highly educative...” says 67-year-old M R Prabhakara, a philatelist and calligraphy artist who is from Melure, Sidlaghatta, and lives in Bengaluru. “On the stamp released to mark the centenary year of Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, there are profiles of Swami Vivekananda and the Maharaja of Mysore. Why? Because young Swami Vivekananda exchanges words with J N Tata on a voyage, which leads Tata to decide on starting a research institute, and who else but the Maharaja of Mysore donates the land for it. All this can be learnt from one tiny paper.”

Prabhakara believes such pictorial snippets must reach as many young minds as possible. So he has been conducting stamp exhibitions in schools and colleges mainly in rural Karnataka, and has crossed his 2,000th outing. “I see this as a voluntary service,” he says.

Even the Bengaluru Philatelic Bureau hopes to reach out to schoolchildren by teaming up with senior philatelists. “This year, though, the plan is also to conduct philately workshops for around 60 teachers picked from 30 schools across the city. Teachers influence kids a lot, so they should be oriented to this hobby,” says Shivaram S, chief postmaster, General Post Office (GPO), Bengaluru.

“But, we are struggling to get children interested in philately these days because they have many alternate sources of entertainment... the main one being the online world,” he adds.

Tune in to the times

“Another important personality of India shares his birthday with Gandhiji... do you know who?” asks Jagannath Mani, 48, whose unfulfilled dream of becoming an athlete has taken him towards collecting stamps issued by the Olympics host countries (1896-2016). The answer is made known via a stamp — that of Lal Bahadur Shastri — on the WhatsApp group ‘Stamp Today’ (250-plus members, around 60 are non-philatelists).

“This is a year-and-a-half-old group, and there are a few such groups which keep people informed about history and personalities through stamps,” says Jagannath, who also likes postcrossing.

Postcrossing, a newer vein of philately, is a worldwide exchange of picture postcards, but with a difference. It combines the reach of the Internet and the charm of snail mail. It begins on a website that gives its registered postcrosser a postal address of another postcrosser picked at random. For every card a postcrosser posts, he receives one from just about anywhere in the world.

In India, 9,075 postcrossers have been engaged in sending and receiving a total of 2,13,402 and 2,04,818 postcards (as of October 4, 2017), reads the popular Postcrossing Project website, active since 2005.

Meetups in the backyard

A rare stamp sits in a room at the GPO (Bengaluru) on October 1 this year. It’s rare because it’s a cake customised as the Half Anna Blue, India’s first official lithograph postage stamp with Queen Victoria’s profile. It was issued on the same date in 1854.

And celebrating the anniversary is one of the features of the Karnataka Philatelic Society (KPS) meetup that day. “The cake was cut by Dr Sita Bhateja, a very senior philatelist (who has the best collection of stamps on pre-independent India),” says M S Ramu, whose expertise is the 1854 lithograph stamps. As a philatelist, he thinks that the hobby is not dying, but has “changed into another mode, an alternate investment.”

According to the president of the club, Chaitanya Dev, the KPS members are a few more than 650 at present, and 15% of them make up the youth club. They meet on the first Sunday of every month, and welcome enthusiasts from anywhere in India. “Our aim is just to encourage philately. Anyone’s welcome,” he says.

Then, there are philately exhibitions and competitions held across the State that keep up the traditional attempt to keep the excitement of collecting stamps going. This year, Tulunadpex-2017 (organised by the Dakshina Kannada Philatelic and Numismatics Association and the Manipal University Philatelic and Numismatics Club) also held philatelic and ‘draw your stamp’ competitions for students.

The calm...

Most of them interviewed for the story have other jobs and say they turn to philately for the comfort and joy it offers. Both 31-year-old Vishwesh K and 86-year-old R G Sangoram say the hobby enriches their lifestyle. When Vishwesh, a psychiatric social worker from Udupi, sees his collection, “I feel relaxed. I forget my worries for some time. It’s meditative.” He has been collecting stamps from when he was six. His themes have been getting specific — from animals to mammals and to sub-groups like hooved and carnivorous mammals.

“That’s the beauty of stamps... when one subject ends, another begins!” says veteran philatelist and former professor Sangoram, with stamp collection in 13 categories including communication (from the Stone Age to Satellites) and flowers. “Even when you get old, your love for them never fades. On most days between 11 am and 5 pm, nothing comes between me and my stamps. They keep me creatively active.

They will be my best companions till the last breath of my life.”

Birth of the first stamp...

Postal system in the United Kingdom,before 177 years:

Unfair. The recipient had to pay for the post rather than the sender!

Unaffordable. The cost of sending a message through post depended on the distance a message travelled and the number of pages. High postage cost...

Illegible. So, common folks practised cross-writing — writing in different
directions on every inch of the paper to fit more words.

But the message was clear: there was a need for a standardised and affordable postal service for all. Rowland Hill, an English civil servant and advocate of this message, ensured its reality with the help of the government through his reforms. The post-payment service changed to a pre-payment one as senders could pay for letters, and to show for it, paste a piece a paper called stamp.

And the first postage stamp, the Penny Black, was issued in May 1840.

Long live India
The first stamp issued in independent India, on November 21, 1947.

Sir, what an honour!
Sir M Visvesvaraya’s 100 birthday was celebrated in Lal Bagh, Bengaluru, and the Government of India honoured him with this stamp. The legend passed away at 102.

Creative with cancels
Pictorial cancellations are postmarks used by post offices to deface stamps to avoid their reuse. Over the years, cancellations have taken various shapes, forms and colours.

Karnataka has 43 of them, the state with the highest number.

Indeed a Mahatma!
No less than 128 countries across the globe have shown their love and respect to Gandhiji through stamps!

Words are all he had...
“Kula Kula Kulavendu Hodedaadadiri... Nimma Kulada Neleyanenadaru Ballira?”
(Do not fight among yourselves for superiority of race.) Saint poet Kanakadasa’s words were born centuries ago, but their universal message is relevant especially now.

Go smell the stamps
Sometimes, stamps carry scents along with their pictorial charm. The latest to join the fragrant stamps of India is the coffee stamp, issued in April 2017. Stamps bearing fragrances of sandalwood (2007), rose (2008), jasmine (2009) are the others.

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