Online social networking lets you meet people from across the planet. You can ‘poke’, ‘like’, and even exchange ‘virtual gifts’ with each other. But over and above these resources, there are those that encourage fellowship and altruism.
Dubbed as ‘gift-giving’ sites, these international networks let you play Santa throughout the year. From sending a postcard to an unknown postal address to leaving a book behind for it to be picked up and acknowledged by a stranger. In fact, you can even give away that unused sewing machine or old violin to someone who might really need it. A growing number of Indian users have already signed up and started giving.
Send a postcard to a random stranger
Retired Navy Commodore Vijay Kapre has crossed hundreds of international borders without a single visa or a stamp on his passport. This has been possible because he is an active member of postcrossing.com; a website that lets users send and receive postcards to and from random strangers.
All you have to do to participate is sign up for an account and click on ‘Request address’. The site then pulls up the contact details of any one of the over 2.4 lakh registered users across 198 countries. The details include a name, an address and sometimes a profile with a photo of the person you have to send the postcard to. Postcrossing.com gives members a unique ID that they have to mention on the card. Once the receiver receives it, they register this ID on the site. The more cards you send and are registered, the more are your chances of receiving cards.
Postcrosser since two years, Kapre sent his first postcard, a photo of the Taj Mahal to a resident of Holland. Today — 991 cards later — he is still scouring bookshops to find postcards to send to “prospective friends” from different countries.
“It is a wonderful way of travelling around the world at my age,” says the septuagenarian. “Not only can I make friends in different countries, but it also lets me further my interest in philately.”
And although the death knoll for the postal service was sounded with the Internet after e-mail took over the penned letter, postcrossers across the world are hooked to the lure of the handwritten message. Take Amiya Sharma for instance. The 25-year-old economist with a consultancy firm makes sure to write a personal message on each and every postcard that she sends.
“It requires commitment: finding cards, putting stamps and then posting them,” she says. Sharma places a Rs 12 stamp on every postcard and sends about 10 cards a month. “It’s a cheap hobby,” she says.
Sharma usually sends touristy postcards of India, which include photos of people in traditional wear and UNESCO world heritage sites of India. So far, Sharma has received over 100 postcards while Kapre has a collection of 1,004 postcards that he stores in a carton after labelling them. “Some of the best cards I have received are of the Wonders of the World, actors and actresses of yesteryear like Clark Gable and Mary Pickford, and vintage cars, trains and cycles like the ‘penny farthing bicycle of England’,” Kapre beams.
Give away something you don’t need to someone who needs it
When Mumbai lawyer Arpit Lalan realised he wasn’t playing his Gibson guitar anymore, he decided to give it away. Instead of selling it, he posted an offer on the Mumbai Freecycle Yahoo Group. And within a few hours, his mailbox was filled with emails from people who were willing to take it. Lalan gave away the guitar to a “worthy requester” for free.
“Instead of selling it off or throwing it away, I was able to give away the guitar to a student who was interested in music,” he says.
The idea behind the international Freecycle network, a non-profit movement, which has local groups in over 4,000 cities across 121 countries, is to stop people from discarding usable things. “By reusingwhat we already have, we reduce consumerism, manufacture fewer goods, and lessen the adverse impact on the earth,” the site says.
The India Freecycle community is active in 15 metros, and each of them has their own group, which is moderated by a local user who makes sure the forum is not used to barter or sell goods. These groups have strict guidelines and forum etiquette that have to be followed.
There are usually four types of messages on the group —
Offer: When you have something to give away;
Wanted: When you want something, but can do without it;
Needed: When you have an urgent or desperate requirement for something, and
Taken: When something you offered has been taken (given away).
Offers range from people asking for someone to “urgently take away a wrought iron double bed” and “baby chair, baby bottle steriliser and warmer,” and even a “golden brown Cocker Spaniel”.
The Mumbai group moderator recalls some fabulous freebies that have been given. “There are many generous people on the network. From used scooters, computers, geysers to new suits and neckties, everything goes,” says 27-year-old Anjali Khurana. She once gave away a used mobile handset and her brother’s engineering books. A user for quite some time now, she has received a mixer grinder and a music system from two people who didn’t want them.
But Lalan hasn’t been lucky yet. “Sometimes people give away things that cannot even be repaired, which is really unfair,” he says. “But I’m optimistic that things will change as more and more people with altruistic motives join the programme.”
Release a book into the wild
Freelance writer Chryselle D’Silva Dias has placed books near colleges, outside libraries, in Mumbai’s local trains and UK’s underground tube stations. Before leaving the books behind with the intention that someone else might pick them up, read and enjoy them, the Goa resident logs on to bookcrossing.com.
The site allows her to register books she wants to “release into the wild” and gives her a unique ID that she pastes on the inside of the cover. On the outside, a label that reads, “I am a free book” invites strangers to take the book home.
“The unique ID inside lets people who find the book acknowledge it on the site, thus letting the original owner know where the book has travelled,” says Dias who has “released” 16 books so far. “They are usually books that I pick up at book sales and can be read and enjoyed only once.”
Like Dias, Siddharth Verma has left everything from his CET entrance exam books to ones by Paulo Coelho and Chetan Bhagat in college canteens and libraries. The engineering student is still waiting for his books to get “caught”. “Although the community isn’t very active in India, the idea of making the world a free library caught my fancy,” Dias says.
Today, there are 9,50,675 BookCrossers and 81,67,973 books travelling across 132 countries. In India, the registered number of users is more than 5,000, but most of them are yet to make their first release. Dias, who wants to ensure her books don’t get wet in the rain or ignored on the street, has started an official book crossing zone in a Panjim heritage hotel.
“It’s a place where people can visit to take a free book or leave one behind,” she says. “Many visiting tourists who are active BookCrossers would want to use the zone. Hardcore BookCrossers look up zones before travelling to a new place to make sure the zone is on their itinerary.”
So if you have a book that’s collecting dust on your shelf, go ahead and become a bookcrosser and feel the joy of sharing.