It sounds inappropriate, but I am thankful for the lockdown. The reasons are quite a few. One of them is getting to restore my father’s philatelic and matchbox collection. The lockdown gave me ample time to catch up on this long-pending pursuit. And the process of restoration has given me major travelling goals.
I had been meaning to give a facelift to papa’s insane collection of vintage matchbox covers and his amazing philatelic horde for a while now. And now that I am back in my hometown for the lockdown, there couldn’t have been a better time.
I lost my father when I was seven and whatever I know of him is through his travel pictures, his diaries, his books and his hobbies. Those were the days when the internet had still not changed the world and people indulged in interesting hobbies, like collecting stamps and coins. My father not only collected these, but also left behind an incredible collection of vintage matchbox covers.
I chose a weekend in May to restore his philatelic collection. While many of the stamps couldn’t be saved (because they were stuck on either side of the same page in the original stamp book), I was able to restore almost 70 per cent of them. I first cut out the the stamps or carefully removed them from the original pages of dad’s stamp book. When it was time to paste them in the new book, I started with the Indian stamps and divided the rest of them country- or continent-wise.
The stamps are a true representation of the people, places and events that shaped the world in the twentieth century. The traveller inside me was on a joy ride while restoring the collection. There was Bijapur’s Gol Gumbaz and there was Akbar’s Tomb in Sikandra. There were Yaksha sculptures from the Pitalkhora Caves and there were sculptures and exhibits from the museums of Mathura and Kachch. One of the stamps marked the International Tourist Year in 1967, and another promoted the Visit India campaign.
From Jamini Roy’s impressionist paintings and Michelangelo’s nude men to the rock and temple paintings of Sri Lanka and medieval sculptures, the stamps featured an array of great artwork. Some showcased Polish airplanes and ships, others celebrated Air Mauritius’ inaugural flight. There were tribal dancers from Romania, the avian fauna of Australia, African elephants, and Russian flora.
Some also marked important events like the Olympics of 1972 and the International Film Festival of 1977. From Europe and Asia to Africa and the Middle East, the stamps took me through every corner of the world. I fell in love with the idea of travelling all over again, and the restoration of these beauties has only lengthened my travel bucket list.
The Vintage Matchbox Covers
Now this was one insane collection and it took me more than a weekend to restore it. My mom and sister assisted me and we managed to do it in two weeks. Collected over several decades from the late sixties to the late nineties, the matchbox covers capture the essence of growing up and living in India. My father travelled extensively across the country during the late seventies and eighties, and built this vintage collection. He pursued his hobby till 1998, the year he passed away.
The covers tell many stories. We began by dividing them into various categories like flowers, animals, birds, people, monuments, film stars, modes of transport, sports, daily objects, brands, graphic designs, musical instruments... the list was endless. Then there were categories within categories. Flowers into various lotuses, roses; animals into tigers, horses, lions, transport into jeeps, trains... and so on.
While browsing through the covers featuring landmark monuments of India, I was reminded of my trips to these places. Those that I hadn’t been to were added to my bucket list. When I was pasting the covers featuring animals and birds, the wildlifer in me couldn’t wait to take a jungle safari. I wanted to go on a cruise when I was pasting the covers featuring different kinds of ships. I wished to go parasailing when I came across a cover that featured a parachute.
I yearned for a night of star-gazing in the mountains when I restored the solar system themed covers. There were covers which papa had picked up from his stays at various hotels like Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace. I was instantly reminded of my guilty pleasures of carrying hotel toiletries back home. There were many moments like these that reinforced the notion that there’s nothing better in life than the joy of travelling and discovering places.
There were around 1,200 matchbox covers which we pasted on 52 pages. It’s a really important archive that tells a great deal about our incredible country. I am glad that I spent the pandemic-induced isolation restoring my dad’s legacy. I am now planning to start an Instagram account where I will post each and every matchbox cover from this one-of-its-kind collection. Any suggestions on what I should name the Insta handle are welcome.