Business development manager by day and stamp collector by night, Samir Shah shares his story with Alvin Thomas.
Walking into the Oman Avenues Mall, I was excited to be meeting Samir Shah, a passionate stamp collector who has been honing his hobby for more than 30 years. According to his wife, Nipa (who helped us set up the interview), he is also a master in philately.
Of course, I had to Google “philately” (it’s the study as well as collection of stamps).
Stamp collecting does still carry a certain preconception about not being the most exciting of hobbies. Nevertheless, I was confident that I would have an interesting interview with Samir and discover what makes him so passionate about stamps.
Sitting down with our coffees, I learn that Samir is a business and development manager at a leading Japanese multi-national company, where he has worked since arriving in Oman eight years ago.
From our first five minutes of conversation, I can tell Samir is proud of his hometown of Kalwa Devi in Mumbai. However, he says he has a deep love for Oman, a country he finds “extremely peaceful and tranquil”.
After studying for his electronics engineering degree at Vivekanand Education Society’s Institute of Technology in Chembur, Samir worked as a project engineer before shifting to his current job. It’s demanding but Samir still makes time for his stamps.
He started his stamp collection adventure in 1978, cutting out stamps from envelopes.
“Around the time I was eight years old, I started developing a special interest towards colourful stamps,” Samir says. “I was so passionate about it that I began sticking them in books,” he jokes.
In 1983, he purchased his first stamp for one Indian rupee. He recollects that the average price for a stamp at that time was 50 Indian paise. Similarly, he purchased his first First Day Cover in 2000, which commemorates 50 years of the air force in India.
By 2005, he reached a milestone: his collection of stamps had expanded to include 100 countries.
During his early days in Oman, he had to shelve his passion to concentrate on his career.
But after settling into his job, he says he realised he could use his company’s international connections in other countries in his quest to expand his stamp collecting hobby.
“For work, I had to travel to the far corners of the globe,” Samir says. “During that time, I would reach out to the local post offices in the region and purchase stamps or first-day covers.”
Samir believes that every country has its own set of peculiarities that is reflected in their stamps. “They [stamps] teach us about the flora and fauna, the political scenarios and even the history of a country.”
Samir opens up a bag containing his stamp collection.Showing me a stamp booklet he picked up in Singapore, he explains how the country portrays its national flower, the orchid, to the outside world by using stamps.
Also among his collection is an array of stamps featuring Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of India.
Samir has collected stamps from various parts of the world, including the UK, United States, West and East Germany, Hungary, Russia and Mauritius, among various other countries.
Moving on to stamps from the GCC, he shows me a three-dimensional stamp issued in the UAE in 2013. He says the stamps contain materials such as leaves, branches or cloth and cost anywhere between AED25 (RO2.62) and AED30 (RO3.14).
“Three-dimensional stamps are considered collectors’ items,” Samir says.
In total, Samir has more than 8,000 stamps and 700 first-day covers.
His collection also includes circular stamps issued on the 40th National Day of Oman and commemorative stamps issued on the 60th year of diplomatic ties between India and Oman.
It’s clear that Samir is passionate about stamps. Talking to him, I realised that I was learning about the histories of various countries, too. Apart from stamps, Samir also collects coins and notes. He has currencies from almost 80 countries, including the former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.
As for jokes about his hobby, Samir says that he was teased by his peers for collecting stamps but, as his collection grew, they took it more seriously. His friends even began donating to his collection.
Talking about the art of stamp collecting and its lasting prevalence, Samir says: “Certain things are time bound and certain things are everlasting.
“Stamp collecting was a hobby undertaken many hundreds of years ago and it is adopted even today.
“I am sure the future generations will carry forward the tradition.”
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