If there is a woman in India who has been immortalized in the form of an Indian postal stamp, philatelist Jane D'souza says she has it.
The Mangalurean has a unique way to celebrate and inspire women – through her extensive collection called ‘Women of India’.
Jane has collected over 300 stamps, miniature sheets and first-day covers which celebrate Indian women, and has categorised them by warriors, freedom fighters, politicians, diplomats, literary figures, arts and culture, cinema and social service, among others.
Her journey with stamps dates back to the late 1960s when she received an envelope filled with stamps, gifted to her by the then Mangaluru postmaster and her neighbour Robert Mascarenhas.
“He simply asked me to add more to the collection, and just like that it became my hobby,” she says.
Jane’s passion for collecting stamps got a major boost when she was employed as a secretary in a British firm in Kuwait, where she was in-charge of handling correspondence.
"We received letters from all over the world and my collection increased. When my employer learnt of my passion, he communicated to other branch offices to redirect postage covers to me," she says.
"I had no time to sort them out, so I used to stack these covers into a few boxes. My collection would have easily crossed over a lakh," she says.
However, due to the events that followed during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Jane, like many other expats, was ordered along with her family for emergency evacuation from the country that was about to turn in to a war-zone.
"At that point, I could think of nothing more but the safety of my family. I had to leave behind my stamp collection and flee to India in a Red Cross convoy,” she says.
Back in Mangaluru, Jane’s daughter motivated her to start collecting stamps once again. She enrolled herself as a member of Dakshina Kannada Philatelic and Numismatic Association (DKPNA) and started rebuilding her extensive collection by exchanging stamps.
This time, Jane collected stamps under categories such as Kuwait, Christmas and Women.
In Jane’s ‘Women of India’ collection, one can find Neerja Bhanot (released in 2004), Karnataka’s Kittur Rani Chennamma (released in 1977) and Mangaluru’s Abbakka Rani (2003). Jane's oldest stamp on a woman dates back to 1952, - a stamp of Indian saint Meera Bai. This was the very first stamp to be released on a woman after Independence.
"It was very difficult to get hold of this one. Being a very rare stamp, I had to go through a lot of dealers and stamp enthusiasts to add it to my collection," she says.
While Mahadevi Verma (1991), Kranti Devi (2010) and Sister Nivedita are some of the many women featured in her literary stalwarts segment, Jane also has stamps featuring yesteryear actors Devika Rani, Meena Kumari, Leela Naidu, Savithri and Kannan Devi, which was part of a special miniature sheet released in 2011.
“Every woman has a story to tell. Each stamp is inspiring. It speaks so much of the woman’s personality. I don’t just collect the stamps, but also write a note on the woman featured so that others can know them. It’s my way of storytelling,” she says.
As part of its Women’s Day celebrations, the Dakshina Kannada Philatelic and Numismatic Association will be keeping Jane's 'Women of India' collection on display till March 11 at the Mangaluru Head Post Office.
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