Years ago when Arvind Kumar Pai picked up letters from his home’s postbox, an orange stamp with a picture of a bald, bespectacled man caught his eye. “I was immediately gripped by the image. Today, I cannot explain why I got so fascinated with Mahatma Gandhi,” he says.
Since that day, Pai has been collecting stamps of Gandhi. He would follow the method of all children who collected stamps; tear off the part of the envelope that had the stamp, place it in water to weaken the glue, gently remove the stamp and put it in the sunlight to dry, and then paste it in a stamp album.
Today, 30-year-old Pai has over 10,000 stamps in his collection, which include first-day covers, setanant (series of four) and ordinary stamps from India and abroad. In late 2014, he was awarded by the Asia Book of Records for having the largest collection of Gandhi stamps.
Not many people know that in 1961, the US became the first country after India to release a stamp on Mahatma Gandhi. It was a 4 cent orange stamp with the Mahatma’s image inside a circle with the words “Apostle of Non-Violence/1869/Mahatma Gandhi/1948” and “Champion of Liberty”. Pai got the stamp from a philatelist in Thiruvananthapuram. “Most of the stamps that I get from abroad are sent by friends,” he says.
He has Gandhi stamps from Mauritius, Ghana, Turkmenistan, Bhutan, Madagascar, Zambia, Belgium, South Africa and Costa Rica. The Costa Rica stamp was brought out in 1998 on the 50th death anniversary of the Mahatma and costs 50 colones. The South African stamp features a young barrister Gandhi in a lawyer’s suit.
“In 2009, the United Nations declared Gandhi’s birthday, October 2, as the International Day for Non-Violence,” says Pai. “They also released a stamp, which I have.” To increase his collection, he regularly attends philately exhibitions in Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Thrissur, Chennai and Bengaluru.
“The price for a Gandhi stamp depends on the year it came out,” he says. “A Rs 10 stamp, which was released in 1948, has an asking price between Rs 30,000 and Rs 60,000 today. For some people, stamp-collecting is a way of making money.”
Pai idolises Gandhi. “Gandhi never died,” he says. “He lives on in the currency notes, statues, photos and stamps. He is India itself. His vision was to make India self-sufficient. I am very happy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come up with the ‘Make in India’ idea, but it was originally a Gandhian concept. Gandhi always said that we should love and respect each other. These are values which we desperately need in our country.”
To propagate Gandhi’s principles, Pai holds three to four exhibitions every year, which are attended by 1,000-1,500 people. The last one was on October 2, 2015, at a school in Thuravoor. “A large number of political science and history teachers from schools and colleges came. Since they teach Gandhi in their syllabus, they were keen to know more,” he says. “Youngsters asked a lot of questions about Gandhi, such as how is Gandhi relevant for them? Why I collect only Gandhi stamps? The exhibition was a learning experience for them. They became aware of what a great man Mahatma Gandhi was and remains so.”