Retired postmaster N. Hariharan shares his treasured collection of rare stamps and first day covers on Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi (1869- 1948) and Kasturba Gandhi (1869 – 1944) were the first Indian power couple to be depicted on a postal stamp after independence. It was issued in 1969 to commemorate Gandhi’s centenary. The stamp carries a value of 20 paise. “Gandhi always credits his wife Kasturba with teaching him ahimsa. She was his pillar of support. She plunged into the freedom movement and actively took part in fasts and marches led by Mahatma Gandhi. She died on February 22, 1944,” says N. Hariharan, a retired postmaster. He displays with pride his collection of exclusive Gandhi stamps, first day covers and postal cards and says, “Prior to independence, stamps were issued only on royal couples. Gandhi and Kasturba are the first Indian couple on a postal stamp after Independence.” Hariharan is the first recipient of Meghdoot Award of the Department of Posts instituted in 1984, and a winner of six awards for his suggestions to the postal department. In one of the post cards released on October 2, 1952, Gandhi is seen with his wife. Other post cards feature portraits of Gandhi with a kid, his charkha…

Stamps and stories

Picking out a stamp from the collection, Hariharan narrates the story behind it. It’s a one-and-a half anna stamp issued on Gandhi’s 80th birthday. It is part of a set of four stamps in the denominations of one-and-a half annas, three-and-a-half annas, 12 annas and 10 rupees that were released. “It was Jawaharlal Nehru who suggested the word ‘Bapu’ be included in Hindi and Urdu on the stamps”, he says. There are also stamps commemorating his fast for communal unity in 1924, the Dandi March of 1930 and the salt Satyagraha. Hariharan shows you a set of four commemorative stamps, released on the centenary of Satyagraha (October 2, 2007). Hariharan says the first country other than India to honour Mahatma Gandhi on its stamps was the U.S. “The U.S. released stamps with values of four cents and eight cents. More than 80 other countries followed suit. The Indian Postal Department has issued stamps on the leader at 35 significant occasions so far,” he mentions. However, the British version of the Gandhi stamp is believed to be the most outstanding example on philatelic art and printing. It bears Gandhi’s characteristic smiling pose against the background of the Indian tri-colour.

The historic Dandi March also features on a set of two stamps, issued by the Indian posts and Telegraphs Department. Gandhi walked the distance of 385 kilometres from Ahmedabad and defied the salt law by picking up a fistful of salt at Dandi, a seaside village in Gujarat.

Hariharan also treasures the first day postal cover on Mahatma Gandhi, released on August 15, 1948. “It’s a reminder of Gandhi’s contributions to the freedom struggle and keeps his memories alive,” he smiles.