The first man in space, several US presidents, all Indian
presidents and 216 heads of state -- a retired engineer has
preserved a virtual slice of history through his 40-year-old hobby
of collecting autographed pictures.
Arshad Kidwai, a 62-year-old retired
Bharat Heavy Electrical Ltd (BHEL) engineer, in Bhopal has spent
a lifetime collecting these photographs which is a Who's Who of
US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, former Egyptian
presidents Hosni Mubarak, Gamal Nasser and Anwar Sadat, Libyan
dictator Muammar Gaddafi, US presidents Richard Nixon, Lyndon B.
Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and all
Indian presidents from Rajendra Prasad to Pratibha Patil, all are
part of his pictorial collection.
"As a teenager, I used to visit exhibitions in my native place
Rampur (Uttar Pradesh) and in Jaipur (Rajasthan). Seeing the
autographed photographs, I began to collect it and from then my
journey began," says Kidwai.
In his collection, the world's royalty is represented by Queen
Elizabeth II of England, Maharaja Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah of
Nepal, Saudi Arabian King Shah Faisal, King Hussein of Jordan, P.
Namgyal of Sikkim, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck of Bhutan, and
Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.
Apart from royalty and politicians, Kidwai has an impressive
collection of over 500 space photographs.
From autographed pictures of the US team of astronauts that landed
on the moon in 1968 to cosmonauts of the erstwhile Soviet Union.
He has signed photographs from the first man and woman in space,
Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova from the erstwhile Soviet
Union. First US astronaut Alan B. Shepard, first man to walk in
space A. Lenov of the erstwhile Soviet Union, first Indian in
space Rakesh Sharma, and Indian-origin astronauts Kalpana Chawla
and Sunita Williams.
The collection also has pictures of Apollo 7 to 17, Sky Lab 1 to
3, Apollo-Soyuz - a joint US-USSR mission - and the missions of
Russian spaceships Vostok 1 to 6, Voskhod 2, Soyuz 1 and 9 and
How did he manage to get hold of all these photographs?
Kidwai says he develops contacts with embassy officials and tries
to get the pictures through them.
"In 1984, the US embassy had held an exhibition in Nainital. I
went there and seeing my interest, Dr. John, an embassy official,
promised me that he will get autographed photos of astronauts for
me. Later he went back to America but kept sending me pictures.
"In fact, I somehow contacted Yuri Gagarin, and he also sent me
several photographs," said Kidwai, who started his collection at
the age of 16.
Cajoling officials and trips to Delhi became a routine.
"It has always been difficult to get such photos personally, as
there is high security. When I tried to take autograph of (former
prime minister) Choudhary Charan Singh, it took me two days.
Initially, he said he did not like to give autographs, but when I
told him how much it means to me, he laughed and relented," Kidwai
"Later, I started using all my links -- friends, relatives,
different official departments and embassies - through
correspondence. In the process, I met more than 60 foreign state
guests who visited India."
Most pictures and correspondence were sent through mail. Some took
days and some months of efforts.
Kidwai also had the policemen knocking on his doors.
"Rampur was a sensitive place and most autographed photos come by
the post. As it used to come from several countries, including
Pakistan, some intelligence officials tracked it and interrogated
me too. But when they came to know what I did, they left me alone.
One of the officials also provided me with prime minister Lal
Bahadur Shastri's autographed photograph," he recalls.
Kidwai longs to add three people to his collection, former South
African president Nelson Mandela, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
"I had sent my request to the South Africa government but they
said there are a large number of applications in queue, and
Mandela gives autographs on donations only," he said.
He also has more than 100 autographs of Hindi and Urdu poets, over
100 autographs of Indian freedom fighters and musicians.
After four decades of collecting pictures, Kidwai still goes about
his hobby with a missionary zeal.
"Now I want to collect autographed pictures of Nobel Prize
winners," he said.
And that's not all. Wait till you see his stamp collection.
Running into thousands, Kidwai has many rare stamps.
"So far, 130 countries have issued stamps on (Mahatma) Gandhiji
and I have got them all," he says proudly.
Kidwai has got three international awards in Delhi (1984), in
Italy (1988) and in China (1990) for his stamp collection on
Now, Kidwai has a helping hand. His 24-year-old son, Ashar, an
interior designer, has joined the family hobby.
Akhtar can be contacted at email@example.com)