In Hyderabad’s Sanjeeviah Park, on the banks of Hussain Sagar Lake, a flagpole stands 88 metres tall. Atop it flies one of the largest Indian tricolours in the country, measuring 22 metres by 33 metres. The flag, which frequently tears in the windy conditions, is repaired every week and replaced with a new one every month.
Each replacement is stitched by the same team, headed by Kambhampati Sanjeeva Rao—a 55-year-old man with a passion for flags. “I was completely in awe of the Indian tricolour, even as a child,” Rao told me. His fascination led him to “notice the flags of other countries as well,” he said. “I came to admire the ideals and struggles they stood for.”
Rao wanted to start an international flag collection in the 1990s, but purchasing the flags from his home in Khammam, a town about 200 kilometres east of Hyderabad, was nearly impossible. He began stitching them instead. Rao wrote to many embassies to ask for the specifications of their national flags, often waiting months before hearing back. Once he had the requisite information about a flag, he would begin to stitch a one-metre-long copy of it from strips of cloth he gathered. “Stitching was my hobby,” he said. “I took immense pleasure in it, and I learnt the tricks.” Rao now has homemade flags of over 200 countries, currently stored in wooden boxes in his home.
In addition to being a flag-maker, Rao is a vexillologist—someone who studies flags. He communicates with other vexillologists across the globe, and has attended flag-related conferences abroad. Decades ago, Michel Lupant, a Belgian vexillologist and the president of the International Federation of Vexillological Associations, encouraged Rao to share his love for flags with his countrymen. Inspired, Rao founded the Indian Vexillological Association in 1995.
The IVA, which holds one meeting a year, is small. Theoretically, anyone can pay a Rs 1,000 membership fee and join, but the association still has only ten members, all of whom are related to Rao. The current president is Rao’s eldest son, Srikanth. The IVA occasionally receives emails of interest from around the country, to which Rao tries to respond immediately—though language barriers can prove challenging.