Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Will philately as an art survive in the 21st century?

I remember my younger days, especially growing up in a small town, where receiving and mailing letters was an event in itself. Living in the outskirts of the town, it was usually late in the afternoon when the postman would come and shout ‘post’ in his usual gruff voice that would shake everyone from their siesta and rush to see what mail the family had got. They would usually be the invites to marriages, house warming ceremonies, and season’s greetings cards signifying the oncoming festivities. The letter would then be circulated to everyone in the family – and therefore everyone knew who wrote what and when.

As kids, the invites didn’t excite us as much as the stamps that came with the envelopes. Most stamps used to be 10 paise and going up to rarely 1 rupee. If it was out of state mail then we would have the rare glimpse of the two rupee stamps – much larger in size and more varied in color, which naturally because a must collect item. I had a folder with many lose sheets on which I would paste all the stamps that I collected. It was not that all the stamps were different – because most of the stamps were same, and yet they would find a place in the folder. Right up to the year 2000, before the onset of the electronic age in India, postmen were as common as other ABCD’s (ayah’s, bai’s, cooks, drivers) that dot the Indian streets. Many a times we would ask the postman to see if other mail in his bag had interesting stamps that he could tear out and give to us. Rarely would he oblige.

Studying in international school had its own advantage too. We would get to sneak into every kids pigeon holes and see if there were international mails that had even more exotic stamps. They would be large, crisp, better quality print and certainly not have Gandhi face on it. That was the funny thing about Indian stamps – no matter how high the denomination there would always be some caricature of Gandhi on it; each one in a different pose. Rarely would you see some Tiger, or crane or peacock on the stamps – and they would be the limited edition prints.

Time passed. Things have changed. I have not seen a postman visit my house for ages now. Even the magazines are now delivered by the courier agencies. Hand written mails have become a thing of past. A few weeks back I had been to our village and the post office was being closed down. For years it had not only been the center of the village but also the only communication point to make ‘trunk’ calls to far off towns. With the onset of emails, mobiles, and not to mention a country crazed with SMS, it was a quick and ruthless downfall of the postal services. For that matter even the telegraph. Philately as an art has had a very short history in the timeline of mankind. It is now in its final stages.

Emails, SMS, voice mails, chats, they can never match up to the awesome feeling of receiving a hand-written mail. Yet the generations to come will not even realize it. The teens and youngsters of this generation have lived through that epoch in history where they have played a significant role in changing the entire face of communication. I started off this article by asking if philately as an art will survive. But I have this innate feeling, that the art of emails and SMS will have even a much shorter history. Thirty years down the line – it is difficult to imagine what types of communication will exist but ‘philately’ as a word will most often be heard only in quizzes.


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