Monday, April 19, 2010


‘No one can safely say whether railways in this country will earn or not.’ Words of Lord Dalhousie while advocating the construction of railway in India in 1848.
The Indian Railway, the world’s largest employer, is celebrating the 55th Railway Week to commemorate the running of its first train from Bori Bunder to Thane on April 16, 1853, with a ‘Philately exhibition on wheels’ train that reached the city on Sunday. Dalhousie’s quote forms part of the many historic records displayed, along with an amazing collection of stamps connected with the history of railways.
The three-coach exhibition train of Southern Railway started its journey on April 13 from Chennai Central station. The over 3,000 stamps on display belong to the personal collection of Mohammad Mujibullah, Eastern Railway’s Heritage Assistant and an avid philatelist, whose rare collection has won him accolades in India and abroad.
The philatelic ride through the history of the most innovative mode of mass transportation is as amazing as a train journey through some exotic landscape. The first two coaches have stamps and first day covers of special occasions from various countries displayed in the alphabetical order of country names. From Afghanistan to Zanzibar, there are stamps issued from 150 countries. The third coach houses stamps and covers that portray the eventful history of the development of railways around the world, right from the primitive avatar of horse-drawn carriages to steam locomotives, diesel engines and super speed trains.
All these stamps are rare, but some are more rare than the others, and hence a tiny bit more dear to the owner. Says Mujibullah, ‘‘Due to shortage of coins in the US, postal currency stamps were issued there in 1886 which could double up as currency and stamp. I have with me the only known existing piece of the stamp in the world’’.
Among the other stamps Mujibullah considers special are a Siberian Railway stamp showing the longest railway line from Moscow to London and Eastern Indian Railway’s Queen Victoria stamps, which were the first to have perfin or the tiny holes seen on stamps today. ‘‘The railway used to buy stamps from the postal department and since all stamps looked alike, railway employees used to steal them for postal purposes. To stop this, railway introduced the perfin system on it’s official stamps’’.
The stamp issued on the 175th anniversary of British Railway shows the first train that ran from Stockton to Darlington in 1825. It did not have the benefit of signals and was preceded by a horse-mounted policeman. Later, the ‘International Union of Railways’ was introduced in 1922 which improved signaling and interlocking, the 50th anniversary of which was marked by India with a special stamp in 1972.
The exhibition also has thematic collections of photographs like ‘Rolling stock of yesteryears’, ‘Gandhiji and railways’, and ‘Masters and motivators’.
The train will reach Coimbatore, its last destination, on Wednesday.
‘‘The exhibition is soon to enter the Guinness Book as the first-ever philately exhibition on wheels,’’ says Mujibullah.
But the philatelist sounds more proud when he says, ‘‘if I get permission, I hope to run the exhibition all over India, the train will then have 10 coaches, with more stamps’’.


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