Collector’s pride: Students take a look at Reverend Father Tom John’s philately treasure trove at St Francis School in Harmu, Ranchi, on Monday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Tucked away in Malam Nawatoli village, Gumla district, Jesuit priest Reverend Father Tom John has a wealth of history in miniature that many stamp collectors would die for.
The capital got to see Father John’s treasure trove — “a part of my collection of over 50,000 stamps” — at St Francis School, Harmu, as part of a three-day display that began on Monday.
From Don Bradman to M.S. Dhoni, from papal heads to Princess Diana, from Mother Teresa to Meena Kumari, from Cochin kings to the liberation of Kuwait, the priest’s philately collection is as vast as it is unique.
“I started collecting stamps as a Class X schoolboy in Kerala. Even back then, I exhibited them under various categories such as football, cricket, tennis, stadium, fish, elephants, horses, fruits and even mushrooms,” said the affable priest whose collection is now over four decades old.
When Class V student of St Francis School Ayush Kumar Singh asked him how he could also collect postage stamps on great cricketers, Father John asked him to become a member of the local philatelic bureau and promised to help him.
Ayush wasn’t the only one to be entranced by what many call the king of all hobbies. Next in line, schoolgirl Deepali Arora asked him how he managed to collect so many stamps on Mahatma Gandhi.
The now-generation, which wants action in the click of a mouse, may have much to learn from philately.
“Stamps teach you about personalities, history, geography and contemporary events. But philately is also about patience and valuing what you have,” Father John smiled.
The collection displayed categories such as flags, political events, personalities, countries, sports and even spices.
But his collection of stamps on important personalities drew the most eyeballs.
So, the miniature marquee had Sir Don and other cricketing greats, Kerala saint St Alphonsa, Mother Teresa, several Popes, Princess Diana, Prince William, yesteryear heroines Devika Rani, Leela Naidu, Meena Kumari, colonial rulers and many more.
When asked how staying in a small village in Gumla he manages to collect so many rare and diverse stamps, Father John said: “My friends abroad and in Bangalore have been more than kind.”
He added that his stamps of countries — from US, UK, Ireland, France, Holland to say, Guinea Bissau or Tanganyika — made him feel like a global citizen while staying in Gumla.
And yes, he is a Dhoni fan. “Look, here’s his commemorative stamp,” he says. “I met Dhoni in 2009 and gave him some stamps of cricketers. He liked them. He’s so down to earth that one has to like him,” Father John, standing at the school barely 500m from Team India skipper’s mansion, said.
The diehard philately buff won’t play favourites. But there’s one set that is evidently very close to his heart — a set of six stamps on Vatican City.
“Put together, these six stamps show you the entire map of Vatican City,” the priest pointed out.
Put together, his entire collection shows a slice of the best of mankind.
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