In the era of Instagram and Twitter, remembering globetrotting postcards

A postcard is not only a snapshot of a carefree time but also a permanent reminder of exploring faraway lands

NH Photo
NH Photo

Girish Shrivastava

In the era of the fastest digital messaging through e-mail, whatsapp, instagram, twitter, facebook and others, postcards seem to be obsolete now, yet there was a time when postcards, including, inland letters & envelopes were the prime sources of sending messages from one place to the other & our postmen were the main carriers of such sweet & sad messages. And long, long ago—in the time of yore our messages were transported by the carrier pigeons, though. And for over more than hundred years people up & down the country had been sending postcards home when they were away.

A postcard is not only a snapshot of a carefree time but also a permanent reminder of exploring faraway lands. It is fascinating to think that what had started out as a practical joke, became a part of fabric of everyday life, and now with the turn of time postcards are lying largely abandoned.

The first recorded postcard was sent by writer & practical joker Theodore Hook in 1840, but the idea didn’t take off until 1870 when postcards were released with a half-penny stamp printed as part of the design. Picture postcards started to circulate in the early 1900s initially featuring images of the Boer War. And between 1905 and 1915 more than 750 million postcards were sent every year amid a boom in the postal service.

Alas! A lot of the things don’t exist anymore, so they are an important historical record, a sort of custodian of time—rise & fall of civilizations.

The world may have largely abandoned postcards writing, but deltiology—or postcard collecting still persists. The doyen of theatre in India, Ebrahim Alkazi and the US-based Omar Khan are the proud deltiologists who together launched the exhibition Globetrotters: Early Postcards from the Indian Subcontinents at the Art Heritage gallery the first time in New Delhi.

The exhibition traces the rise of the picture postcards in the wake of the Industrial revolution, emergence of a swift channel of communication between families, friends & businesses across the world. Mounted in the Art Heritage 1 &2 galleries, the exhibition covers the unified India including the larger South Asian ambit of postcards in Ceylon and even North West Frontier.

The Globetrotters exhibition charts the evolution of the postcard between 1880s and Independence in major metropolitan cities across India, highlighting as it does so the associated themes of urbanism, art practice and popular culture, industrialization and tourism, social transformation and eventually, the rise of freedom and nationalism. A section of the exhibition is devoted to images of Delhi as it became the capital in 1911. Preceding these are not only the cityscapes who elite communities but also the mythological, allegorical works of Ravi Varma, who founded a press just outside the city. A few of some rare specimen of the postcards showcased in the gallery are of World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the exposition marked the official exposure of America to India.

Swami Vivekananda expounded on Hinduism in a series of historic lectures while the painter Raja Ravi Varma won a gold medal, Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March and Satyagrahas to tourists outside the Hawa Mahal, and capturing other interesting developments in Germany & Austria.

The Centennial Anniversary of the end of the World War One is nearly upon us, Archie’s galleries world over are still record selling gift items and stationery such as picture postcards as souvenir for lovers, travellers and chroniclers –teenagers still thronging to these galleries mark the revival of the old cherished saga of picture postcards—truly globetrotting!

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