Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home   |   Volume 7, Issue 09, Tuesday, February 28, 2012





Jargons for the layman
Philately is the word used to describe “stamp collectors”. But there is more to philately than collecting just “pieces of coloured paper.” This is a science where even a common stamp can open a new horizon of information and endless hours of harmless pleasure.

Stamps collectors do not limit themselves to collecting paper stamps alone, some specialise in collecting covers and envelopes that have travelled through the postal network. These brands of collectors who study the development of the postal system are known as Postal Historians. This however is a complex field and some super specialise in an aspect that has come to be known as 'Aerophilately'.

Aerophilately involves the study of letters, covers and even photographs to show how improvements in aviation has contributed to the development of the air mail mail carried by planes.

India -- the pioneer
On 18 February, 1911 for the first time in the world, letters and postcards were carried by an aeroplane. Aviator Henry Piquet flew from Allahabad, across the river Jamuna, to Naini Junction a mere 6 miles. That ground breaking “experiment” gave rise to modern airmails, the way we know it today.

About 6500 pieces of mail were carried on that pioneering flight. And about 40 post cards depicting the image of Monsieur Piquet flying the bi-plane were signed by the pilot himself; a jewel in the crown for all aviation enthusiasts and aerophilatelists.

Over the years, I have come across two “Allahabad-Naini” covers that were flown on the occasion and later posted to Noakhali and Khulna respectively. This connects Bangladesh with the first Aerial Mail of the World, thus our history in aerophilately is as rich as the rest of the world.

A brief history: first flight
Aviation in Bangladesh has its root in flying of kites, a time-honoured tradition that has fascinated the people of Bengal since time immemorial. Heavier than air machines first flew over Bangladesh in early 1892.

Jeanette Van Tassel, a young balloonist from the United States, was hired by the then incumbent Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah (of Ahsan Manzil fame). She was a member of a family troupe of professional balloonists. At 6.20pm on the 16 March, 1892, she set off to fly from the southern bank of the River Buriganga to the roof of Ahsan Manzil, lying across the river.

A gusting wind carried her off to the gardens of Shahbag, where her balloon became stuck in a tree. She was killed in her fall to the ground, and lies interred in the Christian graveyard at Narinda, Dhaka.

The Great War
World War I, for the first time, proved the immense possibilities that aviation holds. The turbulent times proved that aircrafts are not toys of the aviation enthusiasts but can be used to carry passengers and also for carrying mail.

It cannot be ascertained, with any level of certainty, when the first airplane flew over the area now comprising Bangladesh. From an aerophilatelic point of view it is safe to state that the plane flown by Ross Smith and Keith Smith flew over Bangladesh between 25 Nov - 1 Dec 1919. The Smith brothers were flying from the UK to Australia hoping to be the first Australians to have flown between the two ends of the British Empire. About 12 Smith covers, with an Indian connection, are known.

It was not until 1922 that the first airplane touched land now comprising Bangladesh, albeit under unfortunate circumstances. Aviator W T Blake had embarked on a mission to fly across the globe, end to end, and reached Calcutta, a stopping point, on 19 July, 1922.

At Calcutta, it became the first seaplane to take off from the River Hoogli, course being set for Akyab, Burma though it never arrived. They were found six days later by a patrol boat at Lukhidi Char, 52 miles south of Barisal in the Sunderbans.

Due to its geographical position, India remained witness to some of the greatest flights in aviation history. Flights from around the world would touch base in Karachi and then fly around the Indian mainland before exiting its soil at Calcutta.

For most flyers, the next stop would be Akyab or Rangoon in Burma, flying across the stretch of land and sea now part of Bangladesh.

Mail routes
Plans were made, as early as 1919, to explore the possibilities of establishing mail routes across India. In 1925, Alan Cobham - later knighted for his achievements in aviation undertook the historic “Anglo-Indian Air Survey”… which laid the foundation for using aircrafts in the transport of mail, not only in India but across the British Empire.

However, the first passenger plane in the Bengal region did not become operational until 1933. Earlier the same year, Prince Ali Khan (Aga Khan) flew from Dacca to Calcutta; possibly the first time an aeroplane took off from the grounds of the then East Bengal.

Aerophilately today
With rise in popularity of electronic mail, the importance of mail carried by planes has diminished considerably. However, the significant role it once played can be easily understood.

From a mere hobby of the enthusiasts, to its wartime use and then afterwards as passenger and mail carriers airplanes have and still, hold a significant role in our lives.

Smooth take off, steady hovering and safe landing. This has been the key to the success of aviation. As it was more than 100 years ago, it is the same even today. Airmails help preserve history; on bits of small paper.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif



The vegetable less tried

Winter is a great season. Not only because the weather's great, but because there's so many kinds of fresh vegetables. Even though winter is gone, you get a lot of vegetables during this time. Today's column is about zucchinis. Zucchini, also known as corgette, is a vegetable which isn't really native to our country but can be seen in almost all bazars in this time of the year. Although zucchinis grow in summer in western countries, they are found in the markets in winter in our country.

Zucchini has a great, unique flavour and is very versatile. It can be grilled, sautéed, steamed, used in lasagna and can even used to make desserts like cakes or muffins. Zucchinis are a good source of vitamin A, and are also low in calories. They contain a healthy supply of manganese, folate, and potassium. They're often a great food if you're dieting, since manganese is known for its ability to speed up the metabolism.

This recipe uses zucchini, but you can also use eggplants when zucchinis are out of season. As for the sauce in this recipe, you can use any type of tomato based pasta sauce. There are quite a few varieties in the supermarket these days and you can get them almost anywhere.

Stuffed Zucchini
4 servings

2 medium zucchini
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 cup cooked rice
1 1/2 cups ready-made pasta sauce
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop the pulp out of each zucchini half, leaving a 1/8-inch-thick shell. Dice the pulp and reserve the zucchini shells.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and zucchini pulp and cook until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the rice and 1 cup sauce and cook until the mixture is hot and bubbling.

Spoon the vegetable mixture into the zucchini shells. Place the filled shells into a shallow baking dish. Top with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the oregano and cheese.

Bake at 200C for 30 minutes or until the zucchini shells are tender.

Minced Meat, Tomato, and Mozzarella Stuffed Zucchini Cups
6-8 servings

2 large zucchini or yellow squash, about 12 inches long
2 tsp + 2 tsp olive oil (may need more, depending on your pan)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 green capsicum, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely minced fresh garlic
1 kg ground beef
2 cups flavourful tomato pasta sauce
2 cups mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Chop onion and green pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a non-stick pan, then sauté onion and capsicum for 3-4 minutes, until just starting to soften. Add minced garlic and sauté about 1 minute more, being careful not to brown the garlic. Remove the onion, capsicum, and garlic mixture to a bowl.

Add 2 teaspoons more olive oil to the pan. Crumble in the ground beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat until the meat is well browned. Tilt pan to see if there is any extra fat, and remove with a spoon if there is, then stir cooked vegetables and garlic back into the meat. Add tomato sauce and simmer until the mixture has thickened and liquid has cooked off, about 10 minutes, then turn off heat.

While meat cools, cut zucchini into 2 inch thick slices, discarding ends. Use a sharp spoon or melon baller to hollow out a cup in each zucchini slice, leaving just over 1/4 inch of zucchini flesh. Be careful not to get too close to the skin or the cups will leak liquid when they cook.

Grease a baking sheet with oil and stand up zucchini cups, open end up. Stir 1 1/2 cups grated cheese into the cooled meat mixture (it doesn't need to be completely cool), then spoon the meat-cheese mixture into zucchini cups, pressing down with the spoon and mounding it up a little over the top of the zucchini.

Bake zucchini cups for 20 minutes, then remove from oven and use remaining cheese to top each one with a generous pinch of cheese. Put back in oven and bake 10-15 minutes more, until zucchini is slightly soft when pierced with a fork and cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve hot.

Lemony Grilled Zucchini Ribbons
makes 4 servings

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 clovegarlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 zucchinis, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch (5 mm) thick strips

In large bowl, combine oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Brush zucchini with lemon mixture. Place on greased grill over medium heat; close lid and grill, turning once, until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.


State of mind

I received a postcard today from a person unknown. A woman who I have never seen and never knew. She wrote to me addressing “you” and signed off as “me.”

I figured it was a mistake, that the postcard was for someone else, someone who would know the depth behind her “you,” someone who lived in my building, my flat, not so long ago.

I wanted to resist reading the writing but postcards are tempting, they are open and honest and her scribbles were attractive, seeking attention. So I read it, once, twice and three times. For a lost “you” from a found “me.”

She said she was in Europe, and the cold front had hit recently. No matter where she went, the south or north, the winds blew hard. She said as she wrote this postcard, all the exposed parts of her body, mostly her face, felt like someone else's. It was as if they would fall off one by one, first her nose, then her lips and then the curves of her cheeks. She said if they did fall off she would make installation art out of it, and sit by the side of the road and beg for money, a nose-less, mute beggar is bound to be a good earner especially considering the random happy tourists passing by.

I wrote her back, I found a postcard that I thought represented warmth, with a picture of the Bengali spring. I wrote about the state of minds of things around me, at least as much as I could fit into one postcard. I told her about the recent deaths and sympathy turning into gossip and then mockery. I wanted to write more and realised the warmth on the photo of the postcard didn't do justice to the darkness of my writing on the back. It didn't matter as I would never be able to send her the postcard anyway; she didn't put a return address on her card so I bought a little wooden box and wrote “For Me” on top and stored the postcards in there.

She wrote again, telling me about twirling dervishes and Turkish tea. I wrote to her about a conversation with the fruit seller and the rally I saw today with bearded men. She wrote about the depression, about her different jobs in different cities, floor-mopper at a Spanish church, juice stand attendant near the Eiffel tower. I told her about the broken roads, the potholes, about typhoid fever and the cloudy skies. She wrote back saying she wished the world was bigger.

It went on, my pen friend, my one-sided getting to know someone, the nameless affection who kept me posted always. The stack of cards on the wooden box grew larger. I found myself writing smaller to fit in more things that I wanted to tell her. I avoided using long words. I tried to adopt the style of telegram writing so I could tell her a thousand stories in just a hundred words.

The postcards still come, the last one had a coffee stain on it, the one before that had a smudge of her lipstick. I gathered them all, and kept it for “you,” you who will never know the longing of connecting and missing and trying to connect again and for “me” who will never know the longing for random inspirations, triggered and locked away on the lap of dark mahogany.


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