The rays of the evening sun fall onto a neatly arranged desk with meticulously filed sheets of paper. Paint brushes of varied sizes share space with poster colours and every pencil is sharpened to artistic precision. CR Pakrashi is careful about each detail. He has always been. After all, there is little scope for error when painting within a 3.55x 2.50 frame — the standard print area of a commemorative stamp. The 94-year-old is credited with more than 56 such stamps.
“Stamps are ambassadors of a country,” says the Delhi-based stamp designer, who recently penned A Stamp is Born (Niyogi Books). The book records his accomplishments in the field, from 1955 to 2008, when the last set of stamps, paying homage to Shri Shirdi Sai Baba and Ustad Bismillah Khan, designed by him were issued.
A graduate from Government School of Arts and Craft, Calcutta, he distinctly remembers that morning in 1955, when he read a newspaper advertisement inviting designs of postage stamps to commemorate the 2,500th birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. A commercial artist working with the Ministry of Commerce then, Pakrashi decided to take on the assignment as a challenge. “I had no idea about the prerequisites,” he recalls. Weeks of research and interaction with scholars led to the sketch of a stylised Bodhi tree on a full moon night. The design was published on a two-anna stamp and secured Pakrashi the first position and an award of Rs 1,000. The next assignment came a decade later, in 1966, when he designed a stamp to coincide with the birth anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Used to spending months researching on the subject on which a stamp had to be designed, the shortest deadline that Pakrashi ever got was three days for a stamp marking the inauguration of the first Parliament of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Depicting the map and the flag of the nation that had just got its independence, the design was appreciated by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had instructed that the project be kept under wraps until its release date. “She did not want any political controversy before its release,” says Pakrashi, showing the First Day covers of the stamp (released on the day of the issue) autographed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi.
There were some disappointments, too, along the way. The stamp design celebrating the 25th year of Independence received flak for not having the standardised saffron colour of the national flag.
His last stamp and First Day Cover on Dr Mahendra Lal Sircar submitted to the postal department in 2009 remains unpublished. “But I’m happy with what I achieved,” says Pakrashi.
1955: Stamp commemorating the 2,500th birth anniversary of Lord Buddha
1972: Silver jubilee of India’s Independence
1973: Jai Bangla stamp
1990: XI Asian Games in Beijing
1995: 50th anniversary of United Nations