A stamping ground
As India's largest exhibit of rare stamps comes to the city today, The Guide speaks to a pair of noted philatelists at the helm on building a collection, its preservation and the challenges they face today
While workers are busy tinkering with standees to accommodate The Indian National Philatelic Exhibition (INPEX) 2019, 88-year-old Damayanti Pittie walks in with a little black briefcase at Cuffe Parade's World Trade Centre. It is, almost, her whole world. Pittie, the president of the Philatelic Congress of India (PCI) that is organising the exhibition, has been a philatelist since 1957. And although she grew fascinated by it when she was 25 during a trip to Germany, where she began collecting Swiss and German stamps, she knew that the bond between her and the mail would be inseparable.
Over the years, she switched to Indian stamps. "But then I wanted to delve into a particular subject — like the pre-stamp postal history of British India i.e. the period before 1854, when there were no stamps issued. So, I have a collection that dates between 1780 and 1854, which has received the highest award, the Grand Prix," she says. Then, the briefcase is opened, and multiple documents neatly inserted into plastic sheets are unveiled — the famous pre-stamp postal history collection lies on the table amongst fine examples of intaglio prints and stamp seals. Besides this though, Pittie also has a collection that showcases the postal history of Bombay GPO till 1890 and one specifically on the reign of King George V in British India spanning 25 years.
1809, Letter from Nattore of Rajshahi District to Calcutta, from Pittie's collection
But she isn't the only philatelist in the room, as Ramu MS, 46, a fellow of London's Royal Philatelic Society and an employee of the Tata Group also comes with an impressive collection, including the first stamp of independent India and the early postal covers of Mysore State (1810). "Although these are being displayed here, I also have about 50 stamps on the various angles of Victoria Terminus that can be traced back to the early 1900s," he reveals. Ask the duo about the weather and they'll chuckle in response. It's what determines the condition of their precious artefacts, which Ramu informs sell for crores, and the Indian climate is no good.
The five-day show will see a national competition of exhibits, as well as seminars and workshops aimed at the youth. INPEX that has been in the works for six months is also supported by the Department of Posts, who will have a counter at the venue. Here, there will be a replicated variety of Bombay's oldest postcards that young people can write a message on and mail.
Damayanti Pittie and Ramu MS
Talking about the significance of philately as a profession, both experts highlight the need of the subject as a part of the education system. "There was nobody to teach me. I would buy packets as a child and sort it by country. I didn't even know what cataloguing was, or even the name of the country — that Germany was Deutsches Reich, for instance. But rather than what you find on the Internet nowadays, this can teach you so much more about the world," Pittie explains, while Ramu adds that it is not only important for the topic to be introduced in schools, but also introduced at a lower level. "The learning curve here is very high. So, when you're old, it may not make sense."
Till December 22, 9 am to 6 pm
At World Trade Centre, Ganesh Murti Nagar, Cuffe Parade.
Log on to www.inpex2019.com
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