Was there any doubt the Indian-American community wanted this stamp? If so, it was erased by the outpouring of emotion at the first-day ceremony for the Diwali stamp, held at the Indian Consulate in New York City on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. The upstairs room was packed; a downstairs room with video screens showing the ceremony upstairs was fairly full, too.
The Indian-American community campaigned for more than seven years for a Diwali stamp. “Diwali was the only major religion without a stamp,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., after announcing during the ceremony that already 100,000 copies of the stamp had been sold. “I predict this will be the biggest seller in the history of the Post Office Department.”
The lack of the stamp was a glaring omission, said Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s former ambassador to the United Nations toward the end of the more-than-60-minute ceremony. “How can this be the only group that is left out?” he asked rhetorically.
Now Hindus are not.
Here are some photos: A postal sales truck and customer outside the Indian Consulate sold just the stamps, but without the lines at the sales table inside before the ceremony (below). The sales table sold “philatelic collectibles,” too. This photo was taken more than a full hour before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. Servicing also began early, with two field pictorials. Foster Miller is the collector obtaining the cancels on the left. This was in the secondary room for those who had not pre-registered for the ceremony. The autographing was also to be held in this room after the ceremony. I don’t know what this first-floor room (with the cancelers) was originally used for, but it had a convenient marble shelf in the back for affixing stamps to my Dragon Cards! Now if only I had picked the correct (more adept) canceler of the two. At the beginning of the ceremony, all the dignitaries — and there were far more of them than are listed in the ceremony program, and all of them spoke, too — were called forward for the lighting of diyas. There were several interludes of dancing by members of the Shaan Mutiyaaran Di Bhangra Club. (Photo above by VSC. Below, courtesy Daniel Alfala, U.S. Postal Service.)Stamp design photographer Sally Andersen-Bruce was not listed on the program, not introduced earlier and not brought up for the diya-lighting, but was introduced during the ceremony and called up for recognition for her photograph on which the stamp design is based. Watch for a Virtual Stamp Club radio interview this weekend. And, of course, the unveiling of the stamp design. From left, I believe, former Indian Ambassador to the U.N. Hardeep Singh Puri, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Consul General Riva Ganguly Das, (the stamp design), USPS VP Pritha Mehra (partly hidden), Diwali Stamp Project chair Ranju Batra, U.S. Rep. Grace Chen, master of ceremonies and chair of the National Advisory Council for South Asian Affairs Ravi Batra. (Photo courtesy Daniel Alfala, U.S. Postal Service)Several speakers, but especially master of ceremonies Ravi Batra, expressed how pleased they were that the USPS had sent “one of our own” to be the “dedicating [postal] official” at ceremony: USPS VP, Mail Entry & Payment Technology, Pritha Mehra. (Photo courtesy Daniel Alfala, U.S. Postal Service)Ravi’s wife, Ranju Batra, spent seven years campaigning for this stamp, even speaking to the prime minister of India about it. She said at one point, a postal official advised her to forget the online petitions, because “e-mails don’t use stamps.” She got the message, and subsequent petitions and pleas were mailed in on paper. Ravi Batra is seated next to her. (Photo courtesy Daniel Alfala, U.S. Postal Service)Maloney is seen here purchasing some of the Diwali stamp products at the sales booth inside the consulate. (Photo courtesy Daniel Alfala, U.S. Postal Service) Consul General Riva Ganguly Das (Photo courtesy Daniel Alfala, U.S. Postal Service) former Indian Ambassador to the U.N. Hardeep Singh Puri (Photo courtesy Daniel Alfala, U.S. Postal Service)