Published on June 20, 2014 in Time Out Delhi
CR Pakrashi tells Time Out why the art of designing postage stamps will not lose its charm
Who knew that the Gandhi centenary stamp was originally meant to have an illustration of a temple, church and a mosque? Or that the stamp bearing freedom fighter Mangal Pandey’s image would stir up a controversy over the accuracy of the sketch? Acclaimed stamp designer CR Pakrashi’s new book, A Stamp is Born, is replete with such fascinating anecdotes. Touted as India’s first authoritative book on stamp making, it also reveals how Pakrashi went about conceptualising his own stamps.
When Pakrashi arrived in Delhi in 1945 from Kolkata as an industrial designer with the ministry of commerce, he didn’t have the faintest clue about designing stamps. Today, he is the proud winner of three national awards for three of his best designs – the Buddha Jayanti stamp, the Gandhi centenary stamp and the stamp he designed to mark the silver jubilee of India’s independence.
In an interview with Time Out at his Kailash Colony residence, Pakrashi, 94, told us how he came to design a total of 56 commemorative stamps in a career spanning five decades.
Tell us how you got started.
My first encounter with postage stamp designing was in 1955 when I came across an advertisement inviting designs for postage stamps to commemorate the 2,500th birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. It came with a condition that no image of Buddha was to be included in the design. It had to be symbolically representative of Buddha Jayanti. I researched well and decided to create a Bodhi (banyan) tree with Mohenjo-daro seal leaves, with an effect of a moonlit night to emphasise the fact that Buddha attained nirvana and also died on a full moon night. The stamp won the first position.
How would you go about designing stamps?
Several rounds of discussions would take place between the postal department and me. When they commissioned me to design a stamp, a clear set of guidelines were provided, such as the theme, size, composition, number of colours to be used and the kinds of inscriptions. I made it a point to do my share of research. For instance, when I was working on the stamp to commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s historic Chicago address, I contacted the Ramakrishna Mission in New Delhi for suitable reference materials. And to design the stamp on India’s freedom struggle, I visited the Nehru Museum and Library as well as the Gandhi Darshan Museum. I created many drafts until I reached a design that made me happy before submitting it to the postal department.
What makes the art of stamp designing so special?
Postage stamp designing is associated with cultural heritage, history, education, health, art, industry and a host of other subjects. It is a specialised branch of visual art and a relatively lesser-known form, mostly because of its popularity among niche audiences. Stamps not only serve the purpose of transmitting mails but also spread relevant and pithy messages to its issuing country and various parts of the world. Therefore, it’s more challenging, because the onus is to create masterpieces on tiny pieces of paper.
Were any of the stamps you designed controversial?
One of the few controversies revolved around the Gandhi centenary stamp. India had decided to commemorate the birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi in 1969. I decided to combine the photograph of Gandhiji and a spinning wheel with a stylised sketch of a church, temple and mosque, in order to represent his maxim of religious tolerance. But since India is a country with multiple religions, certain questions were raised and I had to modify my design. Finally, I prepared a composite drawing of the sun (representing “satya” or truth) and a lotus (representing “ahimsa” or non-violence) which was welcomed and authorised by the postal department and used in the five-rupee denomination stamp.
Which stamps did you enjoy making the most?
There are many. My first creation, the Buddha Jayanti stamp, is closest to my heart. The Jai Bangla stamp, designed to commemorate the inauguration of Bangladesh’s parliament in 1973, is also very special. I fondly remembered my birthplace and childhood days and started sketching the characteristic objects associated with Bangladesh, such as the boat, the water lily [its national flower], and the country’s map and flag.
Is there a future for stamps?
The postage system will never get suspended. However, it’s evident that the Internet and email have taken precedence over handwritten letters. No one has the time to wait for a letter to arrive when the message can be communicated in less than a minute. But art per se does not lose its charm and the craft of stamp designing remains exclusive. I hope the book will be of use to philatelists, designers, art students and the general public.
A Stamp is Born Niyogi Books, R695.