Saturday, June 8, 2013

Searching for Philatelic Bees....

I was longing to visit GPO for a while and refresh my good old memory. But somehow it was never getting planned. Then one fine day I decided to make a visit on the way to my office on one of the working day. It was long route but I decided to take it. If I am in town and don't visit GPO then shame on me ;-) I happened to be back in town and was living a bachelor life for couple of weeks so it was but natural for me to visit my temple. I knew once my parents and wifey are back, I won't have such opportunity. Though, I had a month to go before we fly back to US this was only opportunity so I decided to make up for last one yr since we visited India.

I was relaxed as soon as I entered the GPO premises. The GPO surrounding is lush green with rose garden and trees around it. When I entered the philatelic department, to my surprise I found an old known philatelic dealer (we will call him gentleman) looking for his registered post items. We greeted each other. He had shifted to Hyderabad 3 years back but I had no information as he sent me message on my Indian mobile which was inactive. I decided to pay attention to philatelic items available for sale first and then continue chatting with the gentleman. After I satisfied myself with buying lots of items, I turned towards gentleman who was still struggling to find his items with postal department. They were as usual kind of clueless trying to locate his items. The aged dealer (must be in late 70s) was helplessly looking towards them. 

I didn't reveal the fact that I had relocated to US almost 2 years back but started chatting as usual. He asked me to visit GPO again on coming Sunday as there was a philatelic society meeting planned. He had been trying for many years to enroll me in that society. Somehow I was just not buying the idea despite knowing the fact that society was well known and had may veterans in philatelic world. It was then the postal department person also told me that I should make a visit. The society hold auctions etc also during the meet. The gentleman offered me to sit next to him despite the fact I was not a member and I could participate in auction where he would buy items on behalf of me. That scheme seemed attractive to me. I was also keen on finding people who had same interest as mine in the world of WW2. I thought this could be a good place to meet people. Anyway, it was over weekend so I decided to return to GPO.

The gentleman had asked me to be there at 10:00 AM. I woke up late as usual on Sunday morning and by the time I started from home it was already 10:00 AM. I was filled with guilt that I was running late. I have a bad habit of always being punctual. Throughout the ride, I was just thinking the gentleman must be feeling bad probably thinking I didn't turn up despite promising to be there. Finally, I reached GPO around 10:30 AM. Because of Sunday, lots of sections/areas inside GPO were closed. I was also in hurry and furious of running late, I lost my way to philately section. Then, someone pointed me a way to philately. I entered the room and saw empty chairs. There were only a handful of people present including gentleman. My heart sank at that moment. I was not able to have eye contact with gentleman as I thought meeting was over and I came after most of the people had left.

I decided to quietly leave the room when gentleman called me and said he had reserved a seat for me. I should sit next to him. My mind started working once again I realized that it was a meeting called in India that too over weekend. How could most of the people be on time. I was all of sudden very much relaxed. The guilt had gone but I was again furious :-) this time on other people who had not reached on time. I located a sofa at the end of the room and placed myself on it. The gentleman kept on telling me to sit next to him but I politely declined as I had become UN observer (as an observer one should position oneself such that one can do its duty diligently. I couldn't do such thing sitting in front row with gentleman). I started watching people coming in, mingling with others, reading philatelic notice boards and buying philatelic items from counter which was specially kept open for that meeting duration.

Most of the people seemed to be aged, some retired and some businessman. Then there were some techies as usual and I saw a lone girl. Later a group of ladies joined the team. It was almost 11:00 AM when society president/secretary started pleading people to sit on chairs arranged rather than roaming here and there and chatting. He had to plead couple of times for people to keep quiet so they can start their activity. By this time I had become a true naturalized Indian (smiling on what's happening there). Everything appeared to be as expected and very natural. The meeting started while people were still coming in. The ladies didn't stop chatting. The secretary had to voice his concern a little louder. After a short speech, president asked people to participate in auction for items placed in the room. The items were from another gentleman (let's say gentleman#2) who was music teacher by profession. His area of interest was Paris (quite natural isn't it). He was asked to give a brief speech over Paris and items placed for auction by him. The show had begun. He started with history of Paris, touching some important milestones in history of Paris and then shared some information related to philatelic items he had on sale. He was explaining what Paris is famous for: art, historical buildings, music etc when someone asked where could we get famous shoes of Paris. The gentleman didn't understand what was being asked. The enquirer repeated saying he had heard Paris was famous for its footwear so where was that available? I was controlling my laugh. The gentleman#2 was still at loss. Someone from crowd then intervened and explained what was being asked. It was a curious case of Benjamin Button. He couldn't answer to enquirer question. Finally, auction started. I think no items were sold (I had guessed that already). 

After the auction, secretary gave people 10-15 minutes to relax. I saw some people went out for smoking in gallery. The smoke was already coming inside room. It was those passive smoking moment which you can't escape in India. I decided to make a move and tried to talk to some people. I approached a young guy who appeared to be talking to everyone and was only one who was wearing some kind of badge. I introduced myself and my interest to him. His first question was are you a member? I politely said no and pointed him to the gentleman who had invited me to be part of the show. I used that as weapon to further engage him asking for his help if he knew people there having same or similar interest. Initially, he didn't understand my interest (he appeared not to be very keen also as I was not a member. It was just because a known member had invited me he decided to help me). I tried to bring his interest back in me by showing some pictures on my mobile to make him understand kind of items I collected and was looking for. He was in hurry so he simply said there was none who had similar interest adding it was difficult to find people with similar area of interest. Before I could ask further he excused me. I then tried talking to couple of more people but none showed interest. Then some people came to me and chatted checking area of interest etc. Nothing was positive till then. I decided to check with gentleman if he knew anyone there having same interest. He also replied negatively saying there was none.

I was loosing patience by then. I was thinking it was perhaps waste of time for me coming over there. I decided to get fresh air outside. The gallery was full of smoke. I still strolled a while watching green sphere around GPO. After couple of minutes, I was back on my sofa. Secretary asked people to sit quiet again. The gentleman#2 came and sat next to me. Someone from society board questioned gentleman#2 why he had some items other than Paris for sale in auction. Gentleman#2 tried to rebuff that claim but he was cross questioned and had to admit there might be some items not related to Paris on sale. Though, it was of no use as nothing got sold.

I was just thinking on intention of that question from society when gentleman#2 started speaking to me saying those people had no job but always point finger on others. They always looked for some point to question others. I was shocked. I just nodded to acknowledge him I heard what he said. He then continued releasing his anger and pain, what did those people know about Paris. He introduced himself to me saying he was music teacher and had been to Paris. He had many music teacher friends there. Fuming over question asked to him earlier, he said those people cared for shoes and sandals only. What's the relation of shoes to Paris. Instead of appreciating the art and cultural aspect of Paris which he was describing the sole interest of people was to find out where to buy shoes in Paris. What could you expect from such people. I continued nodding with bit of smile (Man, it was really hard for me to control that!). 

The gentleman#2 perhaps realized that he was talking to me without getting introduced. He asked me what were my area of interests. As soon as he learnt, he started speaking did I know Paris was liberated by so many (some numbers which I forgot) soldiers. That piece of history was less known to people. He shared couple of more information about Nazi and WW2. I kept on acknowledging (remember I was UN observer there. My job was to observe and listen everyone not to comment or share my views). By that time, other fellow was invited to continue his talk from past meeting. The other fellow (gentleman#3) had given some talk on how to judge or claim a stamp has error in previous meeting. This time he seemed to had come unprepared (that's what I could guess). He apologized people saying he had no materials to speak as he was waiting for those from his Australian friend. He then advised everyone to read what he had shared last time and put questions next time. It appeared to me as if we were still living in good old days where there was no medium of communication (not even postal letter) so he had to ask people to read whatever was shared last time and come with question in next meeting. I was thinking did this society have no email communication or groups through which members could discuss topics? Was meeting called for such announcements? Some other people in crowd started asking some questions to gentleman#3 about what he had shared earlier. The gentleman#3 had to repeat part of what he had shared earlier but he was not able to satisfy as he had no materials to show (no stamp example, no xerox/printouts, no proofs for whatsoever he was claiming). He was saying he had all those things at home and he would bring next time (including some rare stamp error which he claimed got sold for 2 Million Indian rupees some time back). He was following it up with Stanley Gibbons to acknowledge such error and print in their next catalogue (he claimed Stanley agreed to publish it in 2016 edition). At that moment gentleman#2 started chatting again. He said those people had ego problem. Look at them, he (gentleman#3) had nothing to share or show besides talking loosely. He (gentleman#3) was claiming he had some big shot stamp error rarity. People came there for that purpose only just boasting themselves. What kind of nonsense was that! I was smiling again (the thing I am best at). I could understand his pain (not being able to sell any item and asked about shoes as if someone would have thrown shoe at him. The pain would definitely had doubled as it was none other than his philately society members who had thrown shoes at him).

The secretary again disbursed the meeting for next round and asked some other people to place their items for auction/sale. Some other people placed their items (mostly related to India). I decided to make another round to see if I could find something of my interest. There was none. I tried observing some more people and then decided to get another round of fresh air. I came out and saw bees making their home on a tiny branch of tree next to GPO gallery. I started thinking did they know it would fell down some day as branch couldn't take load of their home as it grew but thought they were selfless creatures doing their best. I observed them for a while and then decided to walk out of GPO thinking there will still be some philatelists in society who will keep it floating. There must be lots of volunteers (like gentleman) who will never get disturbed with what happens in such meetings but continue to work for promotion of philately by urging people like me to join the society and participate. I don't know what all happened in society meeting that day but I couldn't keep myself any longer.

I know philatelic bees are still out there.... I am still looking for them. I hope to find them in my next India trip. Until then enjoy this photo-shoot:

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