Neil Armstrong to NaMo: A man’s lifelong quest for coveted autographs

  • Oliver Fredrick, Hindustan Times, Lucknow
  • Updated: Jul 30, 2016 16:26 IST
Philographist Emmanuel John Patras shows off one of his greatest acquisitions — a signed photograph of US astronaut Neil Armstrong. (Sachin Saini/ HT Photos)

His passion to collect the autographs of famous personalities took a “giant leap” on February 17, 1993, when he added to his collection a signed photograph of Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon.

Meet philographist Emmanuel John Patras, who has in his kitty the autographs of more than 900 of some of the greatest national and international personalities of his time. And every hard-earned autograph has a riveting back-story to it.

It was in the ’80s when Patras first learnt about philography from his father. “I still remember the day when my father first told me about autograph collection. It seemed impossible to me at that time, but I decided to give it a try,” he recalls.

His first autograph was of former president R Venketaraman, which he got in 1988.

“On my father’s insistence, I wrote a letter to the then president asking for his autograph. To my surprise, I received a letter in which he invited me to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The letter stated — ‘Why don’t you take it yourself?’

Emmanuel John Patras started his autograph collection with one of former president R Venketaraman, which he got in 1988.

And that was beginning of a lifelong passion for hunting autographs.

“It was a special day for me. I thanked my father and began collecting autographs, which soon became a hobby,” Patras says.

But the journey was not always smooth. Getting the addresses of some hard-to-reach individuals, for instance, was not easy in an era devoid of modern day resources. “There were no search engines at the time. I depended on newspapers. I used to write to them requesting for the address of the personality concerned,” he says.

And for foreigners, embassies were his only hope. It, perhaps, explains the reason why it took him so long to get his second autograph — that of US astronaut and the first person to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong.

“I got the address of Armstrong from the US embassy. I wrote to the embassy, which directed me to an American library. I later received the copy of a page from a book which had Armstrong’s address. I wasted no time in writing a letter to him. In return, he sent me his photograph, which also had his autograph,” he says.

Of all the autographs he has acquired over almost three decades of hunting, his most prized possession is the signature of Mother Teresa.

But of all the autographs he has acquired over the almost three decades, his most prized possession is the signature of Mother Teresa. “The most precious gift to me was from a lady who is going to attain sainthood. I simply wrote her to pray for me on my birthday. I was surprised to receive her signed letter on my birthday, showering her blessings on me,” he says.

In later years, he collected the autographs of the members of royal families, including one of Maharaja Arvind Singh Ji Mewar from Udaipur — the 76th custodian of the Mewar dynasty. He also procured the autograph of Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, a former parliamentarian and former high commissioner of India.

“Politicians cannot be ignored when you are an autograph hunter. Today I have the autographs of Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi and over a hundred others,” he says.

His most recent conquest was acquiring the autograph of Timothy Paul Andrew Broglio, the Archbishop for Military Services, USA.

“I came across his name in a magazine. Archbishop for Military Services, USA, provides pastoral service to those serving in the United States forces and other federal services. I thought, why not have his autograph in my collection? I finally got it this month,” says Patras, 50, who is a Jesus Call ambassador for Bareilly.

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