Monday, 24 March 2008

The seven stamps...

I’ve always felt that pursuing a hobby gives a greater sense of personal fulfillment in our lives. Time just seems to fly when we’ve dedicated our heart and mind to a passion. Having a personally accomplished life ensures that our vision towards professional goals are focused. There is a goal why the individual is living, and the sense of satisfaction… which needs to be felt.

We all have hobbies. If someone tells me that they have none then probably they haven’t yet explored much on their personal front or have lost their hopes of pursuing them. Reasons may be many to abandon ones hobbies; one of the most common is “no time after work”. Though there is no set time when to start a hobby, but generally it seems we decide our hobbies during the growing years of our lives: the school and college days. Being a lazy bum, I realized some of my hobbies after I got into work :)

Yes, even I have a few hobbies and have made it a point to dedicate a certain period every month or week in pursuing them; some of them started way back in school. That’s the reason why, as an 11 year old kid when Sam came to me and showed me his stamps, I was not surprised. I realized that Sam had set forth in defining who he is and what he’d be in the coming years, through these little steps. Sometimes I was skeptic whether he’d show enough perseverance in this new found love of his. Frankly speaking, I never expected Sam, an ardent cricket fan, to have the flair and tenacity of a philatelist.

I came to know that one of his neighbors had given him seven stamps and had promised a few more if Sam kept these stamps for more than a year. Having seen Sam grow up in front of my eyes, I knew that come one month and these stamps would be history. A couple of weeks later Sam showed me a new stamp that he got from those Maggi noodles packs; I had completely forgotten about his collection spree then. But Sam was going strong… even I had been asked to supply him the stamps that I’d get from letters…

It seemed that Sam picked up this collection thing after having been a spectator to one of the stamp exchange sessions during recess in school. He’d tell me about the beautiful stamps that his friends had, courtesy relatives living abroad and that he could never have a collection like them. I knew it was true and instead asked him to focus on stamps of India. Probably his friends won’t be able to appreciate it but if he got a sizable number then he could exchange them by writing to the Philatelic society. Every evening after his cricket practice he’d make a short visit to my house and collect the stamps that’d have arrived from post.
Early in the journey, Sam started showing signs of being articulate. He had a neat envelope where he used to keep his stamps. After a few weeks he explained to me what a “damaged” stamp meant and how to remove the stamp from an envelope without damaging it. He also told me that a damaged stamp has no value in the exchange table. I knew he was picking these from school. He also had a magnifying glass to check the writings on the stamps and I realized Sam might pull this through… Sam might stick to this for more than a year.

As we had discussed, I saw that Sam’s Indian stamps packet was bulging against the other packets. Sam had also gone against one of the most important principle of stamp collection and had exchanged stamps for which he didn’t have doubles. He was told by his neighbor not to exchange stamps for which he didn’t have doubles. But I saw that his collection of stamps was becoming diverse and he focused more on wildlife and history. Though he had violated the unwritten rule, atleast he was moving ahead. He also told me that stamps of Russia, South Africa and Czechoslovakia were in demand due to the fact that newer nations were emerging and hence there would not be many stamps of the erstwhile nations.

After six months or so, Sam’s count on India stamps had crossed 500 while others were at a paltry 25-30 or so. Sam used to be very excited whenever I’d give him stamps of foreign countries which I’d receive from mails. Sam had started pushing me for the Indian Philatelic Society address and in-turn I had to depend on my friends for the same. Those days in the early 90s’ computers and net-connections were not that common and finding information took time and patience. That was Sam’s testing time and I wanted to see how long he could hold onto this.

One Sunday Sam didn’t come to my house and I realized that probably I’ll have to find the address soon or a hobby might die; I could see him loosing interest in stamps. Luckily my friend was able to trace a Philatelic Society in Baroda and I had decided to enroll Sam into the society. The next Sunday Sam came to my house late in the morning, all smiles with a small bag which I knew carried stamps. What he showed me was nothing less than a goldmine of stamps. A week back a friend of his dad from office had come from New Zealand and on his way back taken all his Indian stamps and brought a similar number of stamps from there. He had lots of doubles now.

Stamps with animals, birds were galore. We arranged all the stamps together and it seemed that space was not enough. Sam had a grin etched on his face which was already glowing. I knew that it was a jackpot what Sam had now. But he could easily flounder away these if not guided properly. I took the role of the mentor again and Sam promised that he’d obey the rules now. There were about 250 odd doubles which had to be exchanged but at the same time exchanging too many of them might not give him a good return. He had been good in getting two for one stamp that he gives but at the same time not compromising on the quality of stamps. We decided that we’ll release the stamps gradually and not together. He had to be persistent for the stamps that he wants but also not be too lenient in letting go of his multiple doubles. We had listed down the countries of which he didn’t have stamps or stamps that he had seen with his friends which he’d want to own. We had a strategy in place now. Sam had to control his excitement while dealing with the exchanges.

Over the next couple of months, Sam was able to able to disperse a lot of New Zealand stamps among his friends and also enrich his collection with one of the best stamps. In all the collection and exchange spree, what I liked in Sam was that he was still focused towards collecting Indian stamps… he knew where he came from, and he still valued it. Within the next five to six months, Sam’s collection was enriched with stamps of Queen Victoria’s series from half penny to forty penny and a lot of other sets of stamps. He had also dedicated one album for all the Indian stamps; a lot of them were new even to me. Sam was prosperous now and had a collection of more than 700 stamps from different parts of the world. He still had a month or so for one year to go since he started.

Sam’s stint had mellowed down in the next couple of years till he was in college and was handed over an old collection from his landlord. The new set of stamps had not seen the light of the day for more than 20 years and had to be very carefully handled; a lot of them were “damaged”. After his college I didn’t hear him talk much about his stamp collections. He had grown out of the hobby by then. Though he had the stamps with him, he was not actively into the art of exchanging and studying them.

I knew like all of us, his hobby had taken a backseat. I was not unhappy though; Sam had shown the perseverance to keep track of them for quite a long time… much more than I had expected. It’s not only that his interest had died, but the onset of emails has also driven us away from writing letters; though the latest news from him gives me a glimmer of hope.

Sam had been sent abroad for an assignment and he’s managed to collect a few local stamps from there. Co-incidentally the number of stamps that he’s starting with is again seven. I hope the passion holds enough heat to be called a second innings with his hobby.