Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Stamps

Today is the 142nd Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, The Father of the Nation. There is very little that I can add to the vast knowledge people already have about this Great Man. So, I will only talk a little bit about the Gandhi Memorial stamps, which My Father bought for me. I remember (I was just seven years old then) going with him to the Post Office that day, stand in line for what seemed hours to me and getting this wonderful folder and the four stamps mounted on them. And it is these stamps that marked the beginning of my stamp collecting career, and the start of the finest hobby anyone can indulge in.
The 15th August 1948, the 1st Anniversary of India's Independence was commemorated by issuing postage stamps on "Mahatma Gandhi" in 4 denominations viz., 1? as. 3? as., 12as. and 10 Rupees. The first 3 lower values are in Sepia-brown (Brown), Purple- blue (Violet), Dark-green (Grey -green) respectively. The high value 10 Rupees stamp is in Grey with a Reddish-brown background (Purple-brown and lake). All these stamps were printed in sheets of 50 in 5 rows of 10 stamps each with all around and perforated 11? mm. The top margin has a long inscription extending on 8 stamps, from 2nd to 9th reading "IMRESSION COURVOISER S.A., LA CHAUX - DE - FONDS (SUISSE)". In the bottom margin under the 5th stamp is running number of the sheet and underneath the last stamp is the control number.
The story of making of Gandhi stamps is written by Mr. T. N. Mehta of Indian Postal Administration, is also very interesting as it sketches the true picture of bureaucracy in India. Immediately after Independence, the idea of issue Gandhi Stamp was mooted. On 21st January 1948, the Director General of P & T Dept. requested Security Press, Nasik, to produce Specimen designs for Gandhi Stamps, within a week. The master of India Security Press, suggested issuing a set of 4 Stamps in denominations of lY2annas, 3Y2annas, 8annas and rupee. He proposed that the first 3 Stamps be printed in a single colour in existing 'anna' size and rupee value of Stamp to be printed in two colours in 'rupee' size. Trial copies based on the Em portrait of Gandhiji available with Nashik, was submitted. Alternatively, photographs approved by Mahatma Gandhiji himself could be adopted.
While these preparations were going on tragedy struck the Nation, on 30th January 1948. The picture changed drastically and Security Press was asked on 6th February 1948 to prepare Mourning Stamps. On 17th February 1948, the Security Press submitted 2 designs in denomination of 2? annas for Inland Airmail and 12 annas for Airmail to United Kingdom, based on approval sketch drawn by Mr. C. Biswas. The then Prime Minister Sri Jawaharlal Nehru suggested that the word 'Bapu' be included in the proposed stamp designs both in Hindi and Urdu, a symbolic gesture of Communal Harmony, for which Gandhiji laid his life. The irony of the bureaucracy is plainly visible, in that
  • Gandhi! Who fought for Swadeshi throughout his life, his memorial stamps were printed by a Vedishi (foreign) Press.
  • Gandhiji always used the cheapest mode of communication, that is a 'Postcard', but his stamp was issued in 10 Rupees denomination (very high value of stamp in those days).
Bureaucracy could not have done a greater disservice to Gandhiji. Philatelically also, this 10 Rupees stamp deprived collectors of possessing the full set because 10rupees was a very big amount and unaffordable in those days.
Lastly, the clothing of Gandhiji in stamps, in no way approximated to the Indian grab or the way Gandhiji used to wear clothes. Actually the original photographs showed the Mahatma unclothed above the waist. However, the anglicised bureaucrats thought that it would be derogatory to portray of the 'Father of the Nation' in such a manner. So they asked the Swiss Printers to adequately cover the naked portion of Gandhiji's body, but they couldn't reproduce it in the Indian Way.
Before concluding, I must admit that as Gandhiji used to glitter and eclipsed all other politicians during his lifetime. His 10 Rupee stamp is glittering in Indian stamps and have eclipsed all other Indian stamps.

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