Ajit Kumar Chordia’s first memory of his father, Navratanmal, collecting stamps is from when he was 10 years old. “I remember when he first showed me the envelopes,” says the managing director of Olympia Group, “we used to remove the stamps, put them in water and then store them in a box.” With time, the large collection and the process that goes into maintaining it caught Chordia’s interest.
He helped build on his father’s collection till he went to the College of Engineering, Anna University in Guindy, to do his BE in Mechanical Engineering. But Chordia kept the hobby alive along with his studies. In Chennai, stamps were in plenty. Chordia found them in small stores in every nook and corner. In the city, his approach to philately changed too. “Before college, I used to keep only the good looking ones. Later, I started reading up on them and decided to focus on a type, which I had figured out after much study,” he adds.
Chordia began gathering a small number of pre-Independence stamps, and put together his first ever collection. Today, he owns four series -- the first one is with East India Company issues, the second is on lithographs, the third with post East India issues and the last on representation of the French India.
Chordia sourced his stamps largely from his father’s acquaintances who were philatelists too. “There were a few officers who were retiring and they wanted to sell off their stamps. Then there were people of my age who were selling their parents’ collections after they had passed away,” he says. Chordia says it is not easy to find the right dealer who will give a reasonable price.
Some of stamps in his collection didn’t come cheap. His acquistion price has ranged from ₹2.5 million to ₹10 million. The high-end stamps are mostly sourced from abroad through auctions. One such stamp he owns has a head made of mirror and it is placed upside down. There are months he collects nothing because there is lack of literature on philately in India. Reference material is short because there is little variety in the stamps available here, when compared to what is available abroad, he says.
As his collection grew, Chordia decided to do more organised philately. He joined South India Philatelists' Association based in Chennai. It is a society of mostly dealers and back then, when Chordia enrolled, he was a college student among members in their 60s and 70s. From there on, he took part in national and international competitions, and exhibitions organised by the society. In 1984, Chordia took part in his first national competition organised by the post-master general. “My stamps have gone to Australia and Korea too, and I won a gold in Australia in 1999,” he says.
“It is not just about putting your stamps out there. You need to study about them from various aspects, from their shapes to covers, and present them well,” he says. These days, work keeps Chordia busy and he has not been able to participate in exhibitions that often. He says you need to devote at least three months to prepare for an exhibition. Getting the arrangement of stamps right is time-consuming. For now, he collects his stamps purely for the pleasure of it. “They are among my prized possessions,” he smiles.