My elder daughter has to do a class project on stamp-collection, and we were sadly unable to find any in the house. Finally, we had a kind friend who procured some stamps of foreign countries from the Post Office. At a cost, of course.
When we were young, we went through various 'collection-crazy' phases - from stamps to coins and even matchbox covers (where it helped that my Baba was a heavy smoker and enthusiastic contributer to the cause).
Stamp collection was a hobby much-lauded by grown-ups because it was supposed to be an educational pastime. Many kids were budding philatelists, including yours truly. One cousin, coming from a more affluent family, had a proper stamp-album with sections on different countries, ready-cut pieces of special adhesive to stick the stamps therein, and whole sets of stamps purchased at a price from post-offices.
My collection was more humble, in a used school-notebook. The stamps were painstakingly collected, one-at-a-time, off torn envelopes and air-mail covers, and stuck with ordinary gum but extra-ordinary care.
I had a lot of the usual brown 25 paise Gandhiji-stamps, and another lot of one-penny (or was it five?) pastel-Queen Elizabeth stamps of England. Indian stamps dominated the album (but of course), but there were quite a few interesting ones from foreign shores, taken from letters mailed by relations abroad, or from abandoned stamp-collections of uncles and older cousins. There were triangular, colourful stamps from Bhutan and Nepal, functional-looking stamps from the glamorous U.S.A, and stamps where the letters and numbers were in foreign languages.
The true erudite philatelist would rather have one rare stamp ( a Penny Black, say) than a hundred humdrum ones. But we were philistines rather than philatelists, and for us quantity mattered as much as, if not more than, quality. So, collections were fiercely guarded and frequently counted. Exchanging stamps was a serious and competitive business, much like the Stock Exchange today.
Bright, bold, silent but eloquent, the stamps united the world in my grubby little stamp-book. In the midst of shifting from house to house, and from city to city, somewhere I have lost it. But it is a loss that I deeply regret. Because I believe although I collected stamps with a zeal as a child, I would have learnt a lot more by studying them now as an adult. But those tiny messengers of diversity and variety - speaking of lands far away and peoples long ago - have been forever lost in transit.
WHAT DID YOU COLLECT WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD?