History through the eyes of India Post

2-book-review-may-14( Veteran journalist B. G. Verghese’s Post Haste Quintessential India looks at the contribution of the ‘Dak runners’ and recounts the country’s history through postage stamps, writes Supriya Batra )

Post Haste Quintessential India, a book recently launched at India International Centre, New Delhi, describes the history of India through postage stamps. B. G. Verghese, veteran journalist and author of several bestsellers like Waters of Hope, First Draft and Rage Reconciliation weaves the overview of the country’s past and dedicates the book to the “Dak Runners” of India who connect us contemporaneously with our past.
The tradition of storytelling is quite an old one in India but in today’s life in the fast lane, where family members rarely interact with earlier generations and share stories, little of the glorious past is passed down to new generations. Also, in nuclear family set-ups, there is often no one left to tell them about the wonders and predicaments of their majestic land. This book comes as a life saver for them. No wonder, at the book launch, Verghese quipped, “After reading the book, the children should ask their parents, “Phir Kya Hua (So, what happened next)?”
And, this is probably the only point at which the book fails. It does not give detailed descriptions of the historical events and rather just introduces them to the reader. However, it is also to be noted that going into suchdetails would have probably given birth to an anthology of Indian history. Coloured as well as black and white stamps, perfectly labelled on each page along with the written text, come as a treat for philately lovers and even the cover of the book is designed beautifully, keeping in mind the dots that Verghese joins to narrate the story of India.
It familiarises you with almost everything that you need to know about the land’s history, its geography and politics, its people and rulers, its culture and economy, its traditions and religions, its heroes and villains, its relics and monuments, its flora and fauna. Each landmark event and personality is illustrated with postage stamps narrating the remarkable saga of India Post.1-book-review-may-14
Verghese writes in the Preface to the book that stamps are “both heritage and history”. These stamps are not just some pieces of paper you stick on envelopes to pay for cartage. They are mementos of important events, places, people, things, buildings and animals. The Government of India has issued more than3,000 stamps since Independence, depicting things of national importance such as the national emblem and national flag as also personalities who have made important contributions to the country’s freedom struggle, its politics, its culture, its arts, academics, literature, et al.
book-review-may-14For instance, few would know that the Wadias of Bombay Dyeing were originally shipbuilders in Surat who were contracted by the East India Company to build 100 warships for the British between 1736 and 1830. The varied and distinguished tribal India, popular for its colourful handicraft, costumes and jewellery, also gets highlighted in one of the ten chapters of the book. From the Asokan rock edicts and the Shakuntala’s letters for King Dushyanta to 100 years of Indian Cinema – each and everything comes alive through postage stamps issued by the Department of Posts of the Government of India.
Stamps are like windows to the country and Verghese uses them to illustrate this and calls it as “one book you need to read to know all about India”. According to him, stamps are the “vehicles” on which the volume rises and the story of India unfolds. This book would appeal to a wide readership aiming not just at the youth. It covers the entire history of India and is the first book of its kind. Verghese’s book takes a kaleidoscopic look at the country’s heritage with a hope that a new India is being born. It takes a critical note of the innumerable ills and contradictions that the nation withstood and the transitions that shaped its present.