UAE resident's vast collection of Mahatma Gandhi stamps wins plaudits overseas

Ummer Farook has been collecting stamps for the past 40 years

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The stamp collection of a UAE resident has won awards overseas. Ummer Farook has built a vast archive over the past few decades – and his prized stamps of Mahatma Gandhi form the centrepiece of his treasure trove.

The Indian national last month won the silver medal at the World Stamp Exhibition in the Chinese city of Wuhan for his exhaustive collection on the former leader, who won India's independence from Britain.

"I have stamps from each of the 115 countries that have issued stamps on Gandhi and each one of these tells a story," he said.

“Even in the UAE before the union, both Sharjah and Fujairah had issued in 1969 Gandhi stamps.”

Each stamps tells a story

Mr Farook, 51, has been collecting stamps for almost four decades. His albums show sepia-tinted images ranging from Gandhi as a law student in London, to working as a lawyer in South Africa and colourful artwork released by the United Nations to commemorate the 140th birth anniversary in 2009.

The stamps capture everything from quizzical looks Gandhi attracted wearing a distinctive hand-spun cloth tied around his waist when attending conferences in England in 1931 to the massive following when he led peaceful protests.

The breadth of the collection reflects Gandhi's fame, with even Grenada and Fiji issuing stamps in his honour.

And a flood of stamps released last October to mark the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth has kept enthusiasts busy tracking them down.

"About 20 countries have so far issued stamps [since October] and there will be some more over the next few months," said Mr Farook, who has won awards in more than 10 philatelic exhibitions in countries including Portugal, Australia and Thailand in the past decade.

The most valuable stamps in Mr Farook's collection are each valued at Rs25,000 (Dh1,333). Issued in 1948, the year Gandhi was assassinated, they were released to commemorate the first anniversary of Indian independence. Mr Farook's compilation includes other personalities such as Britain's Diana, princess of Wales, and American presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy. His success comes as the UAE stamp association, of which he is a member, tries to encourage more young people to pursue the hobby.


Emirates Philatelic Association took part in the show along with organisations from 86 other nations.

Abdulla Khoory, the association's president, is keen to attract younger members. "Everybody at one point in their life was a collector and we are hoping to get them interested to go back to their initial hobby," he said.

"Our duty is to attract more people by helping them understand how they can learn more about history." People aged under 21 make up only about 10 per cent of the society's 600 members, and Mr Khoory wants this to change.

The association – founded 23 years ago – holds exhibitions in malls and members visit schools to increase interest.

“Even if children don’t know anything about stamps we can introduce them to the secrets of how to enjoy this hobby by building special themes,” he said.

Adithya Sarma, 13, was among the youngest to participate at the China fair with an offering titled "conserve wildlife".

The Indian teenager created a thought-provoking set inspired by his interest in endangered animals.

They have helped him gain a deeper understanding about the threat to southern elephant seals in the Antarctic from stamps issued by Australia, to the dwindling Siberian tigers from stamps released by Angola.

"I like collecting all types of wildlife that are either extinct or on the endangered species list because I believe I can increase awareness since not too many young people talk about it," said Adithya, who is pupil at Our Own High School in Al Warqa, Dubai.

Like most teenagers, he spends time playing video games but balances it out by learning more about stamps.

One of his favourites is a stamp of a tigress being hugged by her cub.

This is based on a photograph taken in an Indian wildlife reserve.

"There is so much knowledge we can gain just by looking at stamps. It can make us want to read up about how people are trying to protect endangered species,” he said.

“Collecting stamps is a hobby that children can have for life.”