Time to stamp your hobby

When I see modern-day youth expend their precious time and energy watching TV, I cannot but help contrast it with my own generation (growing up in the 80s) that used to spend many healthy hours pursuing purposeful hobbies.

One of our favourite hobbies was —- all of you youngsters, note this down —- watching TV.

Yes, in our days, TV-watching was a classified front-line hobby.

Also, hobbies, in those days, were serious things that many of us proudly mentioned them in our resumes. One of the popular listings was: ‘Listening to music’. We said so because it would have been imprudent and impudent to confess: ‘Like to Sit Idle’.

When you simply waste time you cannot get away with it easily, but when you waste time under the aegis of some hobby, people will cut you some hefty slack.

Let me illustrate with a practical example:  Suppose you have stashed porn in your closet, and one day you get found out, you will immediately be branded a kinky pervert. But if you tell them, yes, it’s porn, but I collect them as part of my evolved hobby, you will be called a connoisseur of erotica and invited to art festivals as chief guest and ramp-walk models will leave their mobile numbers with you. Also, M F Hussain will become your fan.

(This is just an illustration to drive home my point, and I urge impressionable young readers not to even think of collecting porn. It’s such a silly thing to do, especially when you can access them all, these days, at a click of the mouse on the internet).

Anyway, two hugely popular hobbies of my days are dying a slow death. Here is a small ode to them before they inevitably end up the way the DMK has.

Numismatics: Back in the 70s and the 80s, India was constantly on the edge of a balance of payment crisis (this usually happened when the country made huge purchases on its international credit card). The government cautiously rationed forex conversions (from Indian rupee), putting a very low ceiling on the money that an individual could carry on foreign trips (usually good enough to buy three packets of peanuts). Many people who travelled abroad did not have the money to come back, thus leading to a huge Indian emigrant community across the globe.

But that is beside the point. Why were India’s forex reserves so weak? The answer, when you look back now, has to be: Numismatics. It was such a fad to collect foreign coins and currencies that the country was left with very little foreign money to do actual business.

My personal guess is the total value of the money, lying with the various numismatists, especially after forex conversion, will be more than that has been squirreled away in Swiss banks.

It’s sad that with the passage of time and the emergence of credit cards, numismatics is no longer in, er, currency.

But make no mistake about it, numismatics will never die. It’s just that it will be known under a different name: Hawala operations.

Philately: Postal stamps are verily carriers of a country’s history and heritage. That’s why many of us, from those days, know very little history. After all, how much can you pack in a thumb-nail space?

I still remember my friend John proudly showing us a set of historical British and European postal stamps sent by his aunt (his dad’s sister) from London. Later, after some days, I went to my dad and plaintively asked him why my aunt had not thought it fit to send me any stamps from London.

My dad patiently looked at me and gave me a sensible answer, which is still relevant in the world of philately. He said: ‘For your aunt to send stamps from London, you need to technically have an aunt in the first place. Who technically needed to be in London in the second place’.

It was then I realised that my dad had no sister. But for philately I may not have known this.

(When John’s uncle passed away in London, his aunt sent them a letter informing about his demise.  John immediately shot back a ‘thank you’ card. Apparently, the aunt’s letter came affixed with a rare postal stamp. This is how a typical philatelist’s mind works)

In my book, to be classified a philatelist one has to have a huge number of stamps for which one has to have a huge number of relatives in foreign countries. (I had many stamps with Mahatma Gandhi in various states of undress. My relatives, needless to say, had not gone anywhere beyond Katpadi).

Looking back, collecting stamps may look silly and stupid, without any redeeming practical value. But if practical value is going to be the touchstone of our existence, we cannot explain away the post of Governor or the presence of Suhel Seth in this universe.

Post offices may be dying. But we should not allow the endearing spirit of philately to pass away.

That’s why I am urging my daughter to get into the serious hobby of collecting courier company counterfoils.