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Confessions of a stamp murderer

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Old Indian stamps30 May 1931. An unremarkable date. The British Raj is still lording over the Indian populace as revolts are cropping up like angry acne all over the country.

It is an unremarkable day in an unremarkable remote village of India. On the main road, cycles trill shrilly and overbalance into pedestrians. A cow squatting on the footpath is placidly chewing the lungi of the newspaperman established on the wayside. A radio teetering on the edge of his table blares out classical music between bursts of static. With every knock it receives, it emits a fresh outburst of indignant squawking.

Adding to the cacophony, hawkers exalt the virtues of their wares with indiscernible yet hypnotic lyric, punctuating the sounds of the hot afternoon with their soprano cries.

Every plant is parched and coated with dirt and grime. A similar layer of grime is building up inside the collar of a small boy standing at a shop. Oblivious, his whole being is concentrated on a man's hands, as they carefully pick up a stamp, apply glue to its back and press it down firmly with a steady thump-thump into an album. In a few minutes, the man smiles at the boy who grins and, clutching the album, runs home to gloat over his treasure.

26 January 1951. It's been a year since the country has been declared a secular sovereign socialist democratic republic with its own written constitution. The little boy has grown into a strapping young man with a son of his own. The baby is brought up in a free environment and encouraged to follow his dreams.

The stamp album never leaves his side. It now contains not only postage stamps but also revenue stamps, local utility stamps, old currency notes, crumbling letters and first day covers. Protective to the extreme, the lad constantly fusses over it, adding, changing and lecturing his siblings on the ways of distant lands — lands that he has visited only in his soaring imagination on the wings of fancy, via his stamps.

15 August 1981. Television has made its foray into the land and old perceptions are being dispelled everywhere. New opportunities in new frontiers are available and science has hauled mankind to the brink of the Information Age. Into such an India I am born, the apple of my father's eye. I take to reading at an early age and churn out juvenile stories with childish gusto. A literary career is stoutly predicted for me by the family astrologer.

And the stamp album sees it all.

I am a pigtailed nine-year-old in frocks when I first lay eyes on it. It is an ordinary book with no distinguishing feature save for its uneven bulk. I spy a corner sticking out from under a mound of paper and, curious, pull it out. With a soft whoosssh, several loose stamps cascade from between its sheets and tumble onto the floor. I rescue them and squat down to investigate my discovery.

The book has been divided into sections, many of which are only half filled. At a glance I can tell my grandfather's obviously old stamps from my dad's newer ones. Excitement fills me. What a treasure! I am rich! Now I can buy all the dolls I want! To my dismay, only Indian stamps abound. Bah! What use are those? Everybody has them. Cross, I tuck the book away to explore at leisure.

Soon my family leaves the ancestral home for the promising new city of Bombay where prospects are finer. The album, which contains stamps from all over the world but itself never travelled further than the local post office, sets forth from its secure haven and makes its first journey into the world outside.

Settled in at the metropolis several months later, I renew my acquaintance with the album. I decide to reorganise the album and keep a running tally of the number of stamps. I dunk the entire album into a tub of water and wait anxiously for the glue to dissolve so that the stamps can float free.

After 15 minutes of chafing impatiently, I wrench out the remaining stamps and throw the album away. Many stamps get torn — a few slightly, others beyond recovery. But ignorant at the devastation I have caused, in my vernal world I am happy with what I have. I bind together some sheets of paper and make a brand new album.

For a few days after this, I admire my handiwork regularly. Eventually life gets in the way of this pastime and the stamps fail to keep up my interest.

3 October 1991. Computers are catching on in a big way and the internet boom is around the corner. My grandfather, the creator of the old stamp album, passes away. I lose a great companion and apotheosis.

By the time I next open the new album, I am studying hard for my examinations and trading stamps with my friends — their shiny new ones for my torn and smudged old ones. I feel clever thinking I've got the better of the bargain, little realising I am actually handing away a part of precious history for the contemporary today.

My album grows with additions of triangle-shaped stamps which become the pride of the collection that I, without any qualms, have now started calling my own. Gradually when they demand more storage space, the stamps are gathered into plastic bags and dumped together. As examinations take over, I attend to my stamps less and less often, until, in the novelty of making new friends at college, they — my oldest friends — are forgotten.

9 December 2001. Political boundaries are blurring and terrorism has reared its ugly head. World Trade Centre twin towers have recently been razed to the ground amid a frenzy of fear.

I get married and move to a different country and my stamps accompany me. I chance upon them accidentally and guilt motivates me to photograph and bag each stamp painstakingly. After agonising over days whether to sort them by location or content, I run out of patience, stamina and clear plastic bags. Back they all go into the bottom of the chest. Predictably, once out of sight, they are out of mind.

22 June 2021. The future is here.

My daughter has acquired the stamp album and has grand designs to restructure it to showcase the stamps to their best advantage. She sounds sensible and confident. I reflect upon the past, full of remorse about my actions. My irresponsible behaviour has stamped me as a murderer. My inability and disinclination to preserve my inheritance has resulted in the irrevocable loss of a rich heritage.

They may not be Penny Blacks, yet a considerable amount of love, care and sweat has been invested into these stamps — who can afford to buy or sell such priceless sentiments?

As my daughter prattles on, I glance at the stamps to beg forgiveness. They seem content at last. 

Devanyi BoradeDevyani Borade is a writer who loves eating chocolates, reading comics and trying her husband's patience. Visit her blog Verbolatry to enjoy the adventures of Debora, her alter ego.

Topic tags: devyani borade, india, stamps



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Existing comments

The stamps are always a sweet reminder of the glorious past (or otherwise) and make me nostalgic. The article is well worded and good reading. Keep it up girl.

Babbooshing | 04 March 2010  

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