GIVERS AND TAKERS
There is a nip in the air, as I write this, a great Chennai experience… imagine dipping to 19 degrees at night!! It reminds us that we are into the “ winter” season.. Despite the cheer it is a long run of heavy expenses, buying sweets, clothes, household gadgets what with the offer of great discounts and the buying of gifts for loved ones, from the very top of the rung to those right at the bottom, not forgetting the annual bonuses for our workers. Which brings me to the topic of the month!
Gift giving has been a staple of human society for centuries. Tribal leaders would give one another gifts in exchange for peace, protection and food. The Romans exchanged gifts during celebrations held during the Winter Solstice which was on January 1st. The gifts were originally evergreen branches, and later they moved to cakes, to symbolize prosperity and sweetness in the coming year.
The culture of gift giving was so different at one time. When we were invited for dinner or lunch we would just go along, enjoy the meal and return satiated. Likewise when we returned the gesture we welcomed our friends or relatives and laid out sumptuous fare. Alas, the unwritten law today is that you cannot make a casual visit to a person’s home without taking some gift in the form of sweets, fruit or some token. When I make a note in my diary of the date of an invitation I put in a reminder note for buying “something” to take along. like edibles. Edibles meant something overly sweet, but the more prudent of folks today, assailed by threats of diabetes, cardiac diseases, hypertension or high cholesterol, now sensibly bring fruit, or nuts which are clearly more welcome.
We live in an era of excesses. When I encountered what my children faced in sending their kids off to birthday parties I was appalled. The gifts were as expensive as the wedding gifts we bought for a bridal couple. As if this was not enough the persons who hosted these parties had to dole out return gifts to each of the little invitees and they had to be of a certain accepted standard. This kind of barter leaves me cold. We did give small take home gifts at the parties we held for our children, but they were just tokens and not necessarily high value items. We shopped excitedly for pencil boxes, hair clips, crayons, small note pads etc. My son-in-law thoughtfully gave as return gifts, small potted plants, and for the next birthday the return gifts he arranged for were a few fish in a small glass bowl. I wonder how much these unusual gifts were appreciated, and whether the plants or the fish were tended to lovingly, or just dumped.
We as children treasured the few things our parents gave us and preserved them for years. Nowadays children have so much of everything that it is difficult to decide what they would like so it’s best to give them cash. We attend innumerable weddings and unless the family is very close to us, giving a present is meaningless, lost as it would be in the sea of gifts and not really appreciated. I have seen huge bouquets of expensive flowers dumped in the wedding hall for takers! I admire the couples who request in their invitation that donations instead of gifts are welcome for a specified charity.
One good idea is giving of coupons from a favourite shop.Instead of throwing lavish parties for ones birthday it makes sense to contribute money to the underprivileged or buying food for the destitute children or adults. It gives more satisfaction than anything else.
Gifting has lost its meaning. Come birthdays and you receive such personal gifts which are rarely to your taste. Face creams which you would not use, artifacts for your home when you have no place to put in a pin, saris you would not be seen dead in, handbags which you consider flashy, a box of expensive chocolates when you are planning to diet…the list is endless. People are becoming smart and have learnt the art of recycling unwanted gifts. So have I. I have a shelf full of these things. Someone’s birthday was coming up and we were invited at the last minute. I opened my gift shelf and found something which the lady would use and it went well with her personality. In a very magnanimous flourish as it was an expensive thingy, I handed it over telling her that she would love it. She opened the gift in my presence, and exclaimed with such vehemence, “My dear, it is the same thing that I gave for your birthday six months ago!”
To avoid such acute embarrassment you have to learn to be more organized. Label everything, as to who gave what, and for what occasion. Date it, as everything has an expiry date. And for God’s sake if the gift is mere junk, just trash it and don’t ever think of recycling otherwise your reputation is at stake.