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A meal for a book: Delhi’s barter boys who promote a cashless world

Barter platforms and communities such as XOC, Barter Daddy and Let’s Barter India, which work both online and offline, have never had it so good thanks to the demonetisation of high value currency notes.

delhi Updated: Nov 27, 2016 08:39 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times
Barter platforms,XOC,Barter Daddy
Paras Arya (L) and Shivam Dewan at their cafe - Xchange Over Coffee in North Campus Delhi University in New Delhi.(Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

Shivam Dewan, 23, has a sense of déjà vu as he stands outside his roadside coffee kiosk, adorned with colourful posters announcing his message of ‘A world without money,’ and ‘Sharing is uniting’.The café, called XOC ( Xchange over coffee) located in North Campus, is perhaps the only place in the city where one can get a coffee and meal without paying money. And, the cafe is doing brisk business in these times of cash crunch.

“We are an exchange shack, promoting bartering instead of buying. We accept books in lieu of money. There has been a 60 per cent rise in barter of books for coffee and meal in the past 10 days at our cafe,” says Dewan, who set up the cafe six months ago.“In fact, we have had a steady stream of people who want to barter shoes, clothes, bags, etc, but as of now we accept only books-- fiction and non-fiction in good condition,” says Dewan.

The café, which also accepts cash, handled 400 books last month. This month, it has already received over 650 books. The books collected are shared and exchanged among XOC community members. “ One can also come and exchange books at the café, ” says Dewan.

Paras (L) and Shivam at Xchange Over Coffee in Delhi University’s North Campus (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

People can also register on XOC’s website and list books for barter. And if the books are exchanged between two people listed on the website, they get a coupon that can be redeemed at the cafe for a range of drinks and snacks.

Not just XOC, barter platforms and communities such as Barter Daddy and Let’s Barter India, which work both online and offline, have never had it so good thanks to the demonetisation of high value currency notes. There has been a 150 per cent rise in the number of users on Let’s Barter India’s app in the past 10 days.

Post-cash crunch, the items that people are bartering on these platforms have changed too.

“Post-demonetisation bartering has gone up by 50 per cent on our platform. Before the currency ban kicked in people were bartering electronics, phones, headsets, play stations and treadmills. Now, they are offering grocery, heater, microwave oven, phone recharge, events passes, etc for barter,” says Sahil Dhingra, 25, founder, Let’s Barter India.

“The other day, one of our Facebook community members paid one kilo rice to an auto-driver in Mayur Vihar instead of cash.” Another user listed 5 kg rice for barter on our app, he says.

Both Dhingra and Dewan have one thing in common --their unflinching faith in a world without money.

Dewan quit his job last year as an energy efficiency engineer to do something “meaningful” in life.

“I was fascinated by the idea of a world without money. There is cash and then there is something called human capital-- skills, knowledge. I often wondered if there could an alternative to money,” says Dewan.

To find an answer, he along with his friend -- Paras Arya, also 23 and an engineer like him -- set out on a quest in March this year. Paras shares his buddy’s fascination with a moneyless world.

For two months, Dewan and Arya, both residents of Paschim Vihar, took lift from bikers and car drivers, ate at the gurdwaras. Shivam spent several nights in the dormitory of a city monastery. “It was a perfect place to live when you are experimenting with an alternative way of life. Though they (the monks) did not ask me anything in return, I voluntarily swept the halls and helped with the cleaning of utensils,” says Dewan.

“There were days when I faced moments of despair. I felt frustrated, wondering if what I was doing was right, confusion clouding my mind. I realise monastery was a perfect place to retain my patience and peace of mind,” the young entrepreneur says.

So, is it possible to live without money? “It is hard but not impossible,” says Dewan.

He says that a majority of people were kind and generous, and it was indeed possible to use your services—including knowledge and skills—instead of paying currency. “We set up XOC so that people can experience that they need not always buy things. They can barter. Our objective is to create a society where your services, knowledge and your skills have more value than money,” says Arya.

Sahil Dhingra and Pooja Bhayana, partners in Let's Barter India in New Delhi. (Sushil Kumar/HT Photo)

The story behind Dhingra’s Let’s Barter India too is as compelling as his reason for promoting barter system. Last year, Dhingra was shutting down his business –a start up-- and he was not getting good value for various items put up for sale-- furniture, computers, tablets, etc.

“So, a friend of mine suggested that I should try barter. I exchanged three tablets with PS4 CDs with a friend. I realised the value of barter and launched Let’s Barter as a Facebook community,” he says.

Within four hours, he says, the community had 5,000 members. “Right now it has 1 .83 lakh members, making it perhaps the world’s largest barter community on Facebook.”

To promote barter, Dhingra also organises events such as the Book Barter Social, where book lovers barter books in various cities such as Chandigarh, Bangalore, Jaipur, and New Delhi.

Sahil Dhingra and Pooja Bhayana at Let's Barter India in New Delhi (Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO)

A few days ago, he organised a barter campaign, Let’s Barter, for exchange of services at Connaught Place “A young woman exchanged her baking services with a photographer who would click pictures of her products. “

Harinder Singh, 34, founder of Gurgaon-based Barter Daddy, wishes to take the barter culture to the next level. “I have created a real estate category on our platform, where people can swap their homes, and I am sure this will happen soon.”

The traffic on his barter platform has increased almost five times in the past few days and people want to exchange everything from ACs to washing machines, says Singh. “We should not forget that there was barter before there were coins and currency. Barter is staging a comeback, thanks to the demonetisation boost,” he says.

First Published: Nov 27, 2016 08:36 IST