Since Ravi Batra is well known to be deeply involved in the Diwali stamp project from the day of the germination of the idea some seven years ago and his enormous effort along with his wife, for bringing to Indians the proud gift of a Diwali stamp, we thought it worthwhile to speak to him how he looked at the Diwali Stamp saga. The man who is always in a hurry because of his fingers in many pies, did not disappoint. The only favor he asked was that we send him our questions and he would email his answers. He kept his promise. Here are the questions and their answers.
Q. What do you feel about the realization of a dream project?
RAVI: Seven years ago, I thought Ranju was crazy when she came to me and said she wants to get a Diwali stamp – so that our religion, Hinduism, is also recognized as American; I mean that her goal was great and laudatory, but the vehicle of achieving it at such a mass level of a Diwali stamp was a most difficult goal. It was no less difficult than making the first lunar landing by Neil Armstrong in Apollo 11. You will recall the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk the moon on July 20, 1969. They had NASA; Ranju only had me to achieve this fabulous, but most difficult goal. After Ranju was already doing Petitions on this for a year or two, she and I said down and discussed all of our dear friends in Congress: because we decided that this social goal needed both grassroots support, which Ranju was spearheading, and a political leader who would partner with Ranju and provide national political leadership – and Carolyn Maloney agreed, and became a tireless advocate as Ranju was relentless at the grassroots level.
Upon the realization of the Diwali stamp yesterday, I was so overcome by this unique and massive acknowledgment: every small Hamlet, village and town across America was tied into one nation by the United States Postal Service – and now, for all time hereafter, in fact forever, Diwali stamp will grace every post office counter and will serve to welcome every American who’s ancestry or faith connect them to India or Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism.
The role of the United States Postal Service is not merely to give United States attorneys like Preet Bharara near universal jurisdiction due to “mail fraud,” rather, its role was to stitch each neighborhood, each community, each Hamlet, each village, town, city and state from sea to shining sea into one nation – what our Stars&Stripes does as a symbol, the USPS did in-fact since its founding.
So, I felt like Buzz Aldrin right behind my very own Ranju, Neil Armstrong, with our dear friend Carolyn Maloney as the Apollo spaceship. I am deeply touched and relish that just as our dear Pope Francis said, both Caroline and postmaster general Megan Brennan actually did: show respect for another person’s religion. So for all the people who wonder why America is the best nation on earth and why we are exceptional, they need look no further than Ranju’s journey to our Diwali stamp!
Q. Mrs. Batra spent a lot of time and energy for that. How did you feel then?
RAVI: Well knowing Ranju, even though she’s quiet and humble, her determination knows no limits. I have watched her work until three and 4 o’clock in the morning at home on the computer designing different types of paper petitions, and various and sundry he acts and ideas that she tried during her journey. On a few occasions, I may have yelled at her to shut off the light because it was 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and I had to be in court and that she was interrupting my sleep working on her impossible dream.
She would make visits to Washington with our miracle daughter, Angela, our son, Neil now lawyer, getting support from other members of Congress for Carolyn’s House resolutions in support of the Diwali Stamp. In fact, I personally assisted in getting the powerful Eliot Engel, Ranker on the foreign affairs committee and who got chairman Ed Royce, co-chair of the India caucus. I especially enjoyed getting the support of the civil rights giant, our nation’s soulful Conscience, John Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King and excitedly telling Carolyn that our office should follow up for his support. Of course, we have support from our local members of Congress such as Grace Meng, Gregory Meeks, Nita Lowey to name a few.
Q.What can we do to popularize the stamp in our community?
RAVI: After Carolyn and Ranju announced on August 23 at City Hall that the Diwali stamp was going to be issued and the dream was being realized, Ranju reached out to Air India and spoke to the regional manager, Vandana Sharma. Given Air India’s support of the Diwali Stamp Project, and Ranju’s hyper activity, the stamp did not have to crawl, walk, and then run.
Instead, it was airborne just by the pre-sales done by the Diwali stamp project in partnership with the Air India, such that the Diwali Stamp on the First Day is already USPS’s bestseller! So, my hat off to Ranju’s idea and Air India support, to make the Diwali stamp the best in Postal Service history as our community’s very big and very real “thank you” to postmaster general Megan Brennan and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
Q.Was the long fight for the stamp worth it?
RAVI: Over 100 years ago on the West Coast, retail establishments after taking down the sign No Irish Need Apply, or Nina, new signs had gone up: no Indians and dogs allowed. So for all those honest and hard-working Indian-Americans who suffered quietly with insult and shame, it is very worth it. for us, currently living, which includes Harinder Bains, the man who IDeed the Chelsea Bomber, and for every other person who celebrates Diwali, it is worth it.
But best of all, for children yet unborn, who feel some connection to our faiths or India, they belong in our full fledged Americans-is only the United States Postal Service can make you. Next to the American passport the next most important American document is the American stamp. No, all of us have both! This is bigger than President Barack Obama being hugged by prime minister Modi on the tarmac in New Delhi, and both prime minister Modi and president Obama supported Ranju’s Diwali stamp impossible dream.
Q.Postal service is gradually being outdated or replaced with email. What do we gain other than a symbolic achievement?
RAVI: Contrary to conventional wisdom, the United States Postal Service even now delivers more than 40% of the world’s mail. The Postal Service, with its post office is all across our nation, and each letter carrier who goes to every single homerun every single neighborhood across our Great Land is the single biggest distribution system in business. All I know is at the Diwali Stamp is already a profitable bestseller for the United States Postal Service from a most overjoyed and grateful community: all of us. Our pride in the Diwali Stamp will be forever, just like the Forever Diwali stamp.
I was already 100% proud of being an American long before Ranju spoke to me of getting Diwali stamp; now, however, I feel that we have made Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism an American Religion – just like Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The equal protection clause of the Constitution has been honored now in full measure, and forever more, and by so doing, we have helped to form a more perfect union as Thomas Jefferson decreed.