Indian philatelist in Saudi Arabia has collection of stamps, covers on Gandhi from 102 countries

N A Mirza

I have single, block and embossed definitives and commemoratives, miniatures, souvenir sheets, sheetlets, first day covers (FDCs), brochures, special covers, limited edition covers, post cards, inlands, aerograms, medallions, silver-plated medals/capsules and commemorative coins and notes on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (MKG) from 102 out of 198 countries in the world.

They were all released in different times to celebrate MKG’s birth centenary. MKG is popularly known Mahatma Gandhi and Bapu (father) in India. This is my thematic collection of postal stamps and coins on the person who faced insults that later helped him to change the course of events in South Africa, India and later in the world. Mahatma Gandhi or simply Gandhiji is the only personality honoured by such a large number of countries.

Britain is the only country to issue over 45 First Day Covers on the eve of Gandhiji’s birthday on just one day – August 13, 1969. They were cancelled by 28 post offices across the country. The stamps show his statue in Tavistock Square in London, his inset portraits on Indian maps and in beautiful frames, spinning wheel and the man himself at the spinning wheel. Some of them were mailed to the US and Germany. There is some sarcasm or a deliberated mistake found on one of the covers which says Gandhi “born Oct 29th, 1969 – died by assassination Jan 30th 1948.”   A few of them also promotes the British architecture by depicting The Gateway of India.

MS Education Academy

MKG was born on October 2, 1869. India and the world at large have been celebrating his 150th birth anniversary since 2019. But issuing commemorative stamps on him began with his 100th birth anniversary in 1969. These stamps exhibit his conviction in Absolute Truth – the God. He invited people to share his experiments and convictions.

Many countries found in Gandhi a medium to propagate ethics and values he stood for i.e. the fight against untouchability, caste system, injustice, communalism, lessons of peaceful existence, search to demobilize violence, diffuse a race for supremacy, cultivate a culture of acceptance, flawless attitude towards truth and finally prostrate the infinite.

Gandhi was not formidable because he practiced passive violence.

One can just pick up at random any commemorative, FDC, special or limited edition cover, miniature, post card or sheetlet and will find these messages and quotes of Gandhi.

These stamps have commercial values too. India’s 1948 Rs.10 purple-brown stamp, from a set of four showing SERVICE overprint, unhinged remains one of the costliest stamps in the world even today. Its estimated price in March this year was between £65,000 and £80,000.

The first country other than India, which released postage stamps, an FDC and a brochure on MKG was the United States of America, on January 26, 1961 in Washington D.C. in the presence of Muhammad Ali Currim Chagla, then Indian ambassador to the US. The US described him as “Champion of Liberty.” Congo was second in 1967. On June 15, 2007 the United Nations General Assembly voted to establish October 02 – Gandhiji’s birth day as the International Day of Non-Violence with a commemorative-cum-block-cum-brochure.
Did Gandhiji fight for any cause? A brochure from the General Post Office, Philatelic Bureau, Edinburg, UK, meticulously answers: “He instituted a campaign of Satyagraha – insistence on truth – and non-violent disobedience to unjust laws.”

The non-violence he practiced probably saved India and Britain from ending up in an endemic cycle of hate.

My intention is not to write on Gandhiji’s achievements but certainly on the place he enjoys in the philatelic world no individual has enjoyed so far. He remains the only personality who philately has been continuously honouring in its 180-year-old history. The first commemoratives were a set of four stamps India released in 1948. MKG shines also in the miniatures and sheetlets of many countries with renowned personalities during the past 72 years. Those renowned influencers shaped the world and influenced the course of events. An eye-catching 1997 Turkeministan sheetlet depicts celebrations of major international events in one year. There are also few countries which portrayed him with prominent leaders on their Millennium (1000 – 20000) issues.

It is irritating to see the portraits of frail, hushed up and toothless Gandhiji on some covers.

An inspiration

A Tanzania miniature acknowledges that MKG was an inspiration for the country’s first president and the father of Tanzania Julius Kambaarge Nyerere who while campaigning for Tanzania’s independence used non-violence. “I am non-violent in the sense of Mohandas Gandhi. I feel violence is an evil with which one cannot become associated unless it’s absolutely necessary.” Some of the miniatures like the one from Tanzania itself depict portraits of those who literally shaped the 20th century in their respective areas. A Kyrgyzstan block described Gandhi as an Apostle of Peace.

Gandhi’s philosophy was emulated by many world leaders, prominent among them being President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela etc. Non Violence was not just the only and everything he practiced. His message of protecting the environment is more relevant today than ever before when planet Earth has been facing large scale global challenges.

An FDC from Uruguay on the eve of MKG’s 150th birth anniversary is the answer. A miniature affixed on the FDC depicting Gandhiji’s portrait and one of his quotes in French and Hindi reads: Garibi hinsa ka sab se bura roop hai  (poverty is the most cruel form of violence). It aptly highlights the situation in today’s India. The cover cancellation design also depicts a lotus. It is also the second non-Indian stamp to use Hindi script, the first being a trilingual Egyptian commemorative in 1969. The said Egyptian stamp has a spelling error as Gandhi in English is printed as Ghandi. The same spelling error appears on a 1969 three set commemorative from Dominica. A sheetlet on the 50th anniversary of the Republic S. Tomes E. Principe is yet another example. It depicts flags of 12 countries with stamps on their key personalities from respective countries, the flag of Saudi Arabia shows Lawrence of Arabia as a key Saudi personality – a stupid blunder.

MKG is a source to represent Indian architecture on souvenir sheets which have visual effects, like the one from Grenada-Grendine depicting the iconic Charminar of Hyderabad. They also depict India’s heritage and rural life as one can see the Taj Mahal, spinning wheel (charkha) in the background on a Madagaskar issue; Ashoka’s Lion capital and Gateway of India on a Grenada souvenir sheet; Natraj image; beautifully framed portraits of Gandhi on Guyana, Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Mauritius and Syrian issues.

India’s two immediate neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have been honouring MKG with commemoratives, brochures and special covers. But nothing is available from Pakistan.

Did Gandhi follow any intellectuals, adopt their thoughts and merged them into his thinking? The plain answer is he followed himself. He had a dream, a vision and a plan. Spinning wheel was his strength and points out to many facets of life in practice. It points to self-dependence; hard work; daily physical exercise; concentration and above all discards imported goods.

The two insults that made him carve out his own path are significant milestones. The first insult he faced was when he met the political agent in Porbandar, India, to speak about his brother’s case. The political agent who was known to him from England did not entertain him and asked his peon to show MKG the door. The peon – an Indian – put his hands on MKG’s shoulders to push him out of the room. Gandhi “departed fretting and fuming.”

In South Africa he was “pushed out” of the first class compartment in Maritzburg, the capital of Natal in South Africa in the night. That winter night was a turning point in his life. Sitting and shivering in the waiting room of the railway station, he decided to fight “for the unusual.” The stamps on him exhibit his fight “for the unusual.”
Gandhiji is considered the uncrowned king of philately.

Philately began with a first adhesive stamp – the Penny Black – profiling the features of Queen Victoria, a woman. Today it flourishes with Gandhiji who defeated the same queen’s country. Frail MKG triumphed over the mighty.

Penny Black had dark shades. Stamps on Gandhi are bright and colourful and they depict his struggle which does not involve hatred, intrigues and the divide and rule policy.

Gandhiji enjoys an unadulterated standing in Urdu literature. Brij Nararayan Chakbast and Akhar Allahabadi produced “ambrosial poem” when Gandhi was in South Africa. A special cover on the eve of AHIMPEX 2019 commemorates International Non-Violence Day, portrays Gandhiji’s hundred and fifty years printed in Urdu and Persian calligraphy. The square window on the cover has chicken cloth and image of Gandhiji in chicken.

Limited special covers from Kolkata released in February 2016 are few and the images on them are printed on Kapla wood with a decorated gold plated metal frame and have holograms. The limited edition special covers are normally printed between 50, 250, 500 and 1,000 pieces and difficult to procure. I have always preferred to get a particular number covers – 786 – when printed just a 1,000 pieces. Some limited covers and post cards from Kolkata in August 2016 have 3-D Motion Lenticular Picture affixed with raised wooden frames. Gandhiji can be seen walking when cover is tilted.

To commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi, India has released a very special post card made of thin copper.

It is interesting to share with the readers that a world-renowned London stamp dealer did not have what I owned in 2014. During a personal visit to that very dealer from whom I purchased the Penny Black, I sought to buy as much as I could on Gandhi in addition to the missing stamps I did not have. I gave the details of what I had then. Two days later I was informed that they had none, even those in my possession.

N. A. Mirza is a well-known Indian journalist and philatelist from Mumbai. He is right now working the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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