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The Stamp of Success – Leisure News


A state’s final consolidation of power comes not from guns or the soldiers who wield it, but from the bits of paperdocuments, currency and, once upon a time, postage stampsit issues. The legitimacy accorded to them is commensurate with a state’s standing; and for the Nizams of Hyderabad, having their own currency and stamps was a proclamation of wealth. An exhibition, titled Property of a Gentleman: Stamps from the Nizam of Hyderabad’s Dominions, on view at Bikaner House in Delhi from March 9-24, tells the state’s history through its stamps.

The gentleman in question, Hanut Ewari, is the US-based grandson of Nawab Iqbal Hussain Khan, the postmaster general during the rule of the last Nizam.

The journey told through 158 stamps starts with the project’s conceptualisation near the end of the fifth Nizam Mir Tahniyath Ali Khan’s reign, followed by its execution by Salar Jung I, the regent of the next Nizam, and, finally, flourishing during the reign of the last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, one of the richest men in the world at the time.

The state’s first stamp, issued in 1869, set the template for future designs. Its flowing calligraphy against an intricate architectural jali was created by a state calligrapher. The printing plates were made in England and the stamps were finally printed in Hyderabad. These stamps featured buildings and monuments from the state’s dominionsspanning much of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Marathwada. The selection was unselfconsciously pluralistic, depicting the (Buddhist) Ajanta Caves, (Hindu) Kakatiya Arch,

(Islamic) Chand Minar, in addition to sites like Golconda Fort and Osmania University. Equally pluralistic was the use of Marathi, Telugu, English and Persian on the stamps.

With time, the detailing on the stamps increased, with leaves on trees and clouds in the backdrop of the buildings clearly etched. Human figures, being un-Islamic, were never depicted, except for a 1945 stamp made for the British, to whom the Nizams were faithfully allied. The stamp commemorating the Allied victory in Wold War II shows a soldier returning to his wife and children. A few years later, in 1948, the state issued its last stamp.

The exhibition, curated by Pramod Kumar K.G. of Eka Archiving, also features postcards, erroneously printed stamps, revenue stamps and seals. It is small, but like its lick-sized subject, significant.

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