A Philatelic Profile of N.A.Mirza Published in Arab News on 7th December 2013
Philatelist N. A. Mirza is a collector who believes in the power of stamps. “Stamps are not only windows to the past but a guide to the future and also provide, for an inquisitive mind, insights into the present. They speak the truth, and highlight human behavior. Governments benefit from them the most. Through them, campaigns for various causes are launched. A stamp collector need not just collect stamps and arrange them in his album but should also try to read what the event says and what is being conveyed through them,” he said.In his collection is an envelope that was mailed from Makkah, by an Indian pilgrim over 60 years ago that reached India in just eight days. The envelope bears airmail seals from post offices in Makkah and Cutch — a city in the Western Indian state of Gujarat.
Among his most prized stamps are a rare collection featuring Mohandas Gandhi, leader of India’s freedom struggle. “Personalities have been one of the most interesting themes in philately,” Mirza told Arab News.
He said that postal authorities in every country issue definitive and commemorative stamps on renowned personalities to acknowledge their contributions to the community, country and humanity. “This is one of the ways to not only remember the stalwarts, the cause they fought for but also to upgrade history in an authentic and credible manner,” he said.
Gandhi, a barrister-turned-activist, struggled to fight for self-dignity. After a white man threw him out of a first class compartment on a train in South Africa, Gandhi went on to not only avenge the insult but to end colonialism in India. He successfully adopted nonviolence and noncooperation — in other words civil disobedience.
Mirza, whose Master’s dissertation was on nonviolence and noncooperation, said Gandhi was the first person the Indian Postal Department honored by issuing a set of four commemoratives in 1948 after his assassination. Later, the United States was the first foreign country to issue two commemoratives and a First Day cover on Gandhi in 1961 honoring him as the Champion of Liberty. From then on, around 90 countries have issued commemoratives and other postal stationery on Gandhi over the past 66 years. “This is the largest issue on any personality in the 173-year-old history of philately,” he said.
Gandhi has inspired several world leaders such as US President John F. Kennedy, South African President Nelson Mandela, civil rights activist Martin Luther King and many others. “A collection of stamps on him also helps people learn about the Indian freedom fighters without whose support Gandhi would not have made his numerous achievements. Such people include Abbas Tayyabji, the first Indian to become a barrister. He was second-in-command during the Dandi March in 1930.
“Gandhi stamps are a study on his life, ideals and views on universal brotherhood, communal harmony and social uplift, his vision of peaceful coexistence, end to colonial exploitation and enduring peace in the world,” Mirza said.
“In short these stamps on Gandhi are a fine effort to inspire researchers to search for truth when history is being distorted. One has yet to answer (the question of) why the subcontinent was divided when Gandhi had described Muhammad Ali Jinnah as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. It is on record that Gandhi was extremely happy when he met Jinnah. These stamps provide an impetus to look at history from a different angle,” he said.
He said that collecting stamps is not an easy job. It demands time, research effort, money, personal help of collector friends and patience. Time is spent contacting the postal authorities and stamp dealers, and finding out which countries have issued commemoratives. Money is needed to pay for the stamps and then the wait begins for the packet to arrive safely. Quite often the packet is lost on the way, he said.
A Rs10 pink colored stamp with an overprint from a set of four issued by India in 1948 is one of the most expensive stamps. At an auction in May 2011 in Geneva, this stamp was sold for a record-breaking price of 144,000 euros (SR733,000) and to date is considered the most expensive modern stamp in the world.
Mirza began collecting stamps first as a pastime, then to teach history to his children. Later it became a hobby encroaching on his time and family life.
“It is said that stamp collecting is the hobby of both kings and beggars. King Farouk of Egypt was an ardent stamp collector as was former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower,” he said.
Mirza exhibited his collection on Gandhi at the India Festival 2006 organized by the Consulate General of India and was awarded a citation.