When Gopal Tandan’s business tanked three years ago, the 56-year-old turned to the Internet. Surfing became a habit to bide the depressing hours. That is, till the Kolkatan struck upon a global community that rekindled an old passion. “I had thought philately was dead as a hobby. But I found thousands of enthusiasts discussing, exchanging, buying and selling on the Net,” he says. His childhood collection of 5,000 stamps soon grew to four times the number. Tandan’s new-found old hobby eased his depression.
If the Internet made stamps a relic as a communication kit, it has at the same time boosted philately in an unprecedented manner. As an aggregator of borderless communities, it has brought together far-flung people who might never have connected over stamps. Aiding the gummy kinship are web groups such as AllStampsParadise and Indianphilatelists, and sites such as stampsofindia.com and stampexindia.com. Ebay is today one of the biggest conduits of the global stamp trade.
It need not be only about stamps. Not long ago, Aditya Deb Gooptu, a senior marketing official at a cigarette company, tied up with a girl to exchange Brazilian stamps for Indian pocket calendars “with any image but that of Jesus ”. The 38-year-old resident of Delhi has exchanged stamps with collectors in Italy, Turkey, Israel, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, the Netherlands and the UK — but has never sold a stamp.
Not all of them are hobbyists, though. Vinod Sabharwal, 51, who became a ‘professional philatelist’ two years ago, launched indianstampghar.com this May. His blog has hosted more than 75,000 visitors over the past four months. Sabharwal, whose collection today exceeds 3 lakh in number, reckons his trades over the years would have totalled more than Rs 8 lakh in value.
It’s so lucrative a trade that Nadeem Ahmad from Saharanpur, son of a farmer who met a Taiwanese girl over the Net, married her and emigrated, settled on this business after trying out several others. Ahmad, who never went to college, starting three years ago with a loan of $500 (Rs 20,000) from his wife. He claims he sold stamps worth $120,000 (almost Rs 50 lakh) on eBay last year, some 40 per cent of which he counts as profit.
There are other business models, too. Vijay Seth, 46, puts together and publishes glossy books on stamps from Delhi and sells them primarily through the Net. He has published four such books that sell for Rs 350-750.
“If the Net brings together likeminded people, it also brings cheats closer, ” says Mansoor Bolar, a 38-year-old shipping company official from Mysore whose online hours are spent mostly on mbstamps.blogspot.com.
The trade is based on trust — you send stamps to someone with the hope of a payment, exchange or return. It’s the code on which stamp ‘circuits’, that grew after World War II, thrived. Reputations were built over time. The immediacy of the Internet, on the other hand, doesn’t allow so much time. Hence it deceives as much as it connects.