Queens and legends correspond with this Orissa villager (Feature with images)

September 2nd, 2009 - 11:51 am ICT by IANS  

Michael Jackson By Byomakesh Biswal
Bhubaneswar, Sep 2 (IANS) Lady Di replied to him. So did Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Yasser Arafat, Pele and David Beckham. Why you may wonder are royalty and legends corresponding with a humble Orissa villager? Because one fine day, to find out if celebs actually respond, he shot off a letter to Margaret Thatcher - and she wrote back!

And that was the beginning of a lifetime’s passion.

Priyabrat Biswal, 40, a small time transporter, sits in his humble house in Olihan village in Puri district flipping through a carefully preserved album that contains hundreds of letters and signed photographs from the who’s who of the world.

“When in school, I was curious whether celebrities reply when ordinary people write to them. I gathered the courage to write a letter to then prime minister Indira Gandhi way back in 1984. But unfortunately, the same month she was assassinated,” said Biswal.

However, that did not dampen Biswal’s spirit. He continued to write letters to world leaders and one day Biswal received a reply from former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

“I jumped with joy and showed it to everyone in my village. It was signed Oct 7, 1987,” he said showing his prized collection.

His first success egged him on and he continued to write letters to people who had achieved glory in literature, sports, politics and other fields.

And his perseverance paid off. He got replies from former country heads, queens, Nobel laureates, astronauts and sports icons.

Biswal got responses from Michael Jackson, Dominique Lapierre, Kofi Annan, Bill Gates, George Bush Sr, Ronald Reagan, Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Corazon C. Aquino, Lady Diana and the queen of Denmark.

Among sports legends, Pele, Mohammad Ali, David Beckham, Carl Lewis, Nadia Comaneci, Rod Laver, Steffi Graf, Michael Jordan, Florence Griffith Joyner and Goldie Sayers have responded to his letters.

Even astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin have responded though he regrets not having a letter from Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma.

The Indian celebrities who have replied to him are Amitabh Bachchan, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Ramesh Krishnan, Vikram Seth, J.R.D. Tata, Sachin Tendulkar and P.T. Usha.

Biswal’s collection is the envy of any collector despite the fact that he lost almost 500 photographs during the cyclone in Orissa in 1999.

He has some photographs in his collection of the times when the legends were not as well known as they are today. And he has collected these rare photographs despite having no access to modern means of communication. Sometimes he has written hundreds of letters to celebrities goading them for years.

“It has certainly not been an easy task. Sometimes I have to write hundreds of letters to get their response. I had followed Bill Clinton for eight years since he was the governor of Arkansas and I got a signed photograph after he assumed office,” he said leafing through his meticulously preserved album.

“Sometimes I have to pay money to the agents of celebrities to get their addresses as celebrities don’t disclose their address due to security reasons, especially after 9/11. I have paid anything from $2 to $50 to get their addresses,” he said, adding that he was sometimes financially supported by his brother who is a software engineer in the US.

The letters have helped him strike a personal bond with these celebrities.

“Recently a noted sarod player came to my house and stayed with me for a few hours. British javelin thrower Goldie Sayers has said he will come to my house during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.”

Despite having many offers to auction his collection, he is reluctant to part with it. Instead he wants to set up a museum and donate the proceeds for setting up a school.

Olihan is some 60 km from state capital Bhubaneswar.

(Byomakesh Biswal can be contacted at byomakesh.b@ians.in)

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