Rajjesh Mittal spends 20 minutes each morning placing bids for postage stamps on eBay. The IT entrepreneur began flirting with philately, or stamp collecting, two years ago, and has become such an ardent collector that he wants to demonstrate his love for postage by getting a tattoo of independent India’s first commemorative postmark.
Mittal is part of a generation of urban, educated Indians celebrating all things postal in the age of e-mail and Twitter. Though numbers are hard to come by, philately appears to be staging a revival in India, with estimates ranging from 25,000 to over 100,000 active collectors. Like Mittal, working professionals are taking up the hobby, joining stamp-collecting clubs and fostering friendships with enthusiasts from all walks of life.
“I want to have fun with philately,” says Mittal, 41, who helped found the Philatelic Society of Delhi and is working on three books on the hobby. “My wife hates it. The money which I spend, I have to give her equivalent money … It’s another thing I don’t give her the exact numbers.”
The embossed 19th-century issues of the Scinde Dawk, valid for postage in the British Indian province of Sindh, were the first Indian stamps. Four stamps featuring Queen Victoria were released in 1854 and were the first to be used across India. The stamps of British India and princely states, issued until India’s independence in 1947, constitute the classical period of Indian philately and collectors prize them.
Collectors such as Mittal are keeping philately alive in India even though postal mail — a beginner’s source for stamps — and pen pals have gone out of fashion. As demand for stamps at post offices waned, administrators reduced the number of issues with drastic cuts leading to renewed demand among collectors, said philatelist Gautam Rohatgi, who has been collecting stamps since 1957.