Nostalgia aside, a visit to National Philatelic Museum in New Delhi can turn out to be a great exercise in learning about India’s journey

If there is anyone who is expected to know about the existence of this museum, it is a passionate philatelist. To be able to understand and appreciate the contents on that miniscule space, you need to have a philatelist’s eyes. So yes, in that case, the National Philatelic Museum is indeed a niche museum but its location right in the heart of Delhi makes it a place for discovery for anyone who would make an effort to visit it.

Housed in Dak Bhawan on the city’s Sansad Marg, that it is open on all seven days and without an entry fee gives one (whether or not you are a stamp lover) enough reason to explore it.

Post renovation too, the museum has got a few new features that help make it an engaging affair. With elements like neat attractive display, a sale counter of stamp related merchandise, recreation of few stamps on tiles, particularly the Panchtantra stamps, an amphitheatre, and an innovative section such as ‘My stamp counter’, the museum’s efforts to reach out to a wider segment of people, become evident. Despite these efforts, the museum isn’t attracting many visitors. So to fix this problem, the Philately Department is mulling over some ideas to publicise it better, say with jingles on radio stations and ads in national dailies.

I witness something interesting just as I am about to leave the museum 15 minutes before it shuts. A visitor enters right then and straightaway enquires about the ‘My Stamp Counter’ where you can get a sheet of personalised stamps made for Rs.300. If publicised well, it can really become a great pull for the visitors in particular kids.

Now on to the vast collection of stamps on display. Mostly commemorative, the museum houses every stamp post-Independence onwards. It is divided into two sections: chronological and thematic.

But what awaits you at the entrance is the model and the poster issued on the 100th year of world’s first airmail. It was on February 1911 a biplane flew from Allahabad to Naini carrying the world’s first airmail.

In the chronological section, the included stamps cover every year from 1947 to date. And there emerges a linear narrative of India’s journey. A stamp on India’s first Mt. Everest expedition, the first man on moon, 100 years of telephone services (released in 1982, it shows the vintage phone in the backdrop with model 5302 model in the forefront.) It is one of my several favourite stamps and for the reason that how an artist is able to convey an entire story in such a small space. The aesthetics present in these stamps fills me with respect for stamp artists. The Department of Philately has several artists on board who design these stamps.

The artistic excellence is on display in several stamps, like the miniature sheet of festivals of India devoted to different festivals issued by the Department in 2007. Though it’s difficult to pick one from there as a favourite but Sonepur Mela is certainly eye-catching. There are human figures, animals, colour and enthusiasm which successfully evoke the spirit of the celebration. And since it is a miniature sheet, the theme spills over to the borders unlike the sheets which have a white border. With miniature sheets, the Department always brings out individual stamps but that’s not the case with souvenir stamps alongside which individual stamps are not released. I wish some information of the kind is available in the museum.

The museum has some great stamps on personalities from India and across the world but once again not much information is provided about those personalities for there are many who wouldn’t have heard of some of them. It can turn out to be a great exercise in general knowledge provided this information is made available. There are stamps on Nicholas Roerich, Sister Nivedita, Marie Curie, Thakkar Bappa, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Saint Kabir, Tulsidas, Meera, etc. but the personality with maximum number of stamps on him is Mahatma Gandhi. One particular stamp of interest is the one stamp depicting Gandhi being thrown out of the train at Maritzburg Railway Station, issued in 2007.

In the thematic section, ‘Brides of India’ stamps, bearing images of brides from different parts of India — Rajasthani bride, Bengali bride etc., is another fascinating set that illustrates how stamps were chronicling the society. The range of this section is exhaustive and covers each and every aspect of our lives — music, art, cinema, railways, power, aviation, energy, heritage, etc.

A stamp commemorating the centenary of electric light bulb honours its inventor Thomas Alva Edison by simply depicting an earlier and a modern bulb. A graphic stamp of Indian tea, wildlife, first day covers with cancellations on white winged wood duck, Bal Diwas stamps, sheetlets on Gita Govinda (a set of 12 stamps is a sheetlet) are some of the other fine specimens.

To make it more attractive to kids, scenes depicted on some stamps are recreated through dioramas and in fact, in a corner has been recreated a jungle scene from the Panchtantra series with stuffed animal, toys, etc. It increases the interactive quotient of the museum which the Department wants to push further with touch screen kiosks.

Post Haste: Quintessential India

Veteran journalist B.G. Verghese charts India’s journey through some incredible postage stamps and a lot of them on display have made it to the recently released book published by Tranquebar. In the preface, the author mentions, “The volume portrays but a fragment of India, illustrated exclusively with postage of artists.” Laced with rare insight, the book, dedicated to the Dak-Runners of India, will only help you fall in love with the world of stamps.