A glimpse of the past
I often go to the Liberation War Museum at Shegun Bagicha. The historical artefacts on display bring me closer to my past, my identity, my roots. It is a fulfilling experience that reminds me that victory is never earned easy; it must be hard fought.
“There are of course other ways of bringing oneself closer to history” S B Salam Tuhin points out. As a professional stamp dealer for two generations, he has been helping collectors across the globe build up collections of Bangladeshi stamps. Postage stamps depict various themes and collectors often choose to keep them for their designs.
Over the years Bangladesh Post Office has issued many stamps on national heritage and culture. These provide a glimpse of the past. “Albums of stamp collectors are no less than museums. The liberation war is a popular subject amongst collectors and the over two hundred stamps issued on liberation from Bangladesh and other countries gives collectors the pleasure of curating a museum at home.
In the recent past, media played a key role in presenting the history of the Liberation War on television channels and newspapers, and this it seems, has worked well for the stamp enthusiasts. “I meet countless collectors aged between 15-25 years who are interested in collecting Liberation War artefacts, and stamps serve the purpose. The first stamp of Bangladesh was indeed issued on 29 July 1971 and in the next four decades stamps have been issued at regular intervals.
“The most popular, however, are the stamps issued on the martyred intellectuals brought out in the 1990s as part of a long series,” says Tuhin. These collectors are not only interested in stamps but also undertake research through studying contemporary newspapers, documentaries, books and articles. “Stamps only aid in that pursuit.”
The stamps on the Martyred Intellectuals are termed as “commemorative” stamps as they are used to honour, or showcase certain socio-political, national or international aspects. But the character of the Intellectual series, many collectors believe would have been best served as a “definitive”. These are characteristically longer sets and can present a particular subject in greater detail. “In India recent definitives have featured personalities ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to Mother Teresa to Satyajit Ray.” Tuhin further adds, “Reviving the Intellectual series may not be an option. However, what Bangladesh Post Office can do is bring out a definitive every 16 December or 26 March, as they deem fit, to highlight significant aspects of the War at the district level. We all know about the Fall of Jessore Cantonment or even the signing of the surrender but these historical events have not been depicted on postage stamps as yet.”
Commemorative stamps such as the series on Martyred Intellectuals are always printed in low quantities. They are used exhaustibly and a large number of collectors preserve them in their personal albums. The cycle of demand and supply comes into play and creates a market for these stamps and the value goes up on popular stamps. “It's good for the country that the prices of stamps on Liberation have gone up recently. It's the positive sign that the market is buoyant at the local as well as the international scene.”
These stamps are available primarily at post offices and particularly at the Philatelic Bureaux. But as the print runs are limited, their stock is soon exhausted. Old issue stamps are available from stamp dealers. “Currently there are two professional stamp dealers in Dhaka. Salam Stamp Centre was founded by my father M A Salam in the early sixties and we have been doing business on Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue since then,” said Tuhin.
Collecting stamps is a wonderful hobby. It helps to enrich the mind and provide leisurely pleasures. But few appreciate its historical significance but for those who do, this is a gateway to having a snippet of the past right in an album.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Ode to the martyred
Muneer Chowdhury, Rashidul Hasan, Dr Mohammed Mortada authoritative figures of the 60s. They were the brilliant minds of a nation no longer willing to remain subservient to the Pakistani rule. They, and along with countless others, through their writings and their political beliefs made it clear that East Pakistan was no longer content being a province. There was an outcry for sovereignty. Freedom was in the air. And for freedom they gave their lives.
Many of these minds openly favoured socialist ideologies, while others were defiant against all wrongdoings irrespective of any favouritism to governance. Together they formed the psyche of the nation we began to dream of in the 60s. As the ideology of sovereignty and independence crystallised, they became a target of the military forces of the regime and the ultimate slaughter that is seen in effect during the War.
On 14 December, 1971 Chowdhury, Hasan, and Mortada, along with countless others, were taken from their homes, never to return, sacrificing their lives in the killing fields not only of Rayer Bazar but countless other places spread throughout Bangladesh.
The Martyred Intellectual series depicts the great minds of the nationals who lost their lives in 1971, mostly on, but not limited to, the date14 December, 1971. During the entire nine months of the War, beginning 25 Mar 1971 educationists, writers, journalists, musicians, scientists and civil servants were killed in large numbers.
Shaheed Saber, for instance, the Assistant Editor of The Daily Shangbad was burnt alive when the Pakistani forces put the newspaper on fire on 25 March. Zahid Raihan on the opposite spectrum went missing on 30 January, 1972 more than a month after liberation.
Although the first phase of the genocide that took place in March 1971 was used to uproot the values of Bengali nationalism, as the days progressed killings continued on a more planned, butcherly manner. The ultimate onslaught of which took place on 14 December when elites were shortlisted, handpicked and killed with all the intention of shattering the spine of the country. Murder the soul and conscience of the nation.
In the year 1991, Bangladesh Post Office issued their first set of 30 stamps to commemorate the martyrdom of Intellectuals. The designs of the stamps were simple enough, sketches in black set against a white background. But it set the perfect tone as we deeply mourn the loss of our brethren.
It must be noted that depiction on a stamp is considered to be one of the highest honours given in modern societies. It is also noteworthy that with a few exceptions, no living persons are presented on stamps.
The Martyred Intellectuals series continued till 2000 with over 150 individuals being honoured; celebrated names to lesser-known individuals whose mark in contemporary society was nevertheless noteworthy.
Stamps are more than bits and pieces of coloured papers. They present the socio-political and historical background of the nation.
As these 'little pieces of paper' depicting the martyrs took our letters to lands far and near, inquisitive minds questioned their portrayal and surely the facts unearthed were that of a nation butchered by oppressors and also the tale of valiant souls who said no to bowing down their heads.
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif