Thursday, August 20, 2009

The art of gift giving

Recently I was invited to a wedding. My 'bai' or the household help was getting her daughter married and so invited me . She was very excited about presenting the invitation card to me. She also told me that she had invited three other women from the neighbourhood and we could all come together.

It was decided between the four of us that we would go together and the gift would be a combined one. This way we could either get her something really nice or give her the money which would be a nice lump sum. Since she had been working for all of us for over three years, I assumed that a month's wages would be a good amount to begin with. The first of the women I mentioned it to did not sound too enthusiastic, but she did not reject it out of hand either. As per the plan we met the next day to decide on the specifics at one of the homes. After the usual 'chai- nashta' which included some special 'katchoris', ("filled with dry fruits, you know") we got down to the nitty gritty of what and who would get the gift. "I know you said it should be a month's wages, but don't you think that's too much?" The other two were also nodding along and since they all seemed to be in agreement, I cut it down to half. Even that was shot down and then one of them suggested a figure that seemed a joke. Or so I thought at first, but when she explained how we were already paying the 'badli' or the stand in and added the inconvenience of attending the wedding and the price of petrol in it, I realized that she was serious. Here was a person who was always wearing the latest clothes, who dropped over a thousand rupees on the tickets alone, just to catch the latest movie at the local multiplex. She was feeding us Katchoris with dry fruits and was always boasting about the expensive gifts she gave and received (dena padta hai, achaha nahin lagta,na) and she was suddenly tight fisted. What was worse, she had calculated everything to the point of saying "in logon ke liye yeh theek hai, yeh hi standard bhi toh hota hai" meaning that 'this is good enough for these people, it is the standard'.

HERE IS MY QUESTION, why do we compete to give expensive gifts to those who need less of them and give less to those who need it more? The house help's daughter needs that money and can use it far more effectively than the neighbour whom you impress by feeding expensive dry fruits. It is truly ironical, but we tend to give expensive gifts to people who have no need for them, while giving less to those who really need it. It probably stems from the need for validation. It could also be the ' log kya kehenge?' or what will people say syndrome. It could be the need to feel on par with the receiver.

What ever it is, you see it happening all the time. In fact, doesn't the famous fable of Sudama and Krishna illustrate this very thought? The thought that you need to have more to meet someone who has it all, and coversely less for those who have less!


  1. It's all about show - if we give expensive gifts to our friends and neighbours, we'll be talked about...On the other hand, if we give expensive gifts to the needy, people won't get to know...Plain human psychology...Disgusting but that's how many think...

  2. ..I do hope you decided not to combine the gift and gave her the month's wages...we are such social beings, and truly everything is dependent on what the society thinks...thought provoking post.

  3. Not everyone have the heart to GIVE without any precondition.
    The gift exchange between the socialites is a "give and take" understanding. It is a show off. After all there is no business like show business!! If one does not return a gift of similar worth he/she will be ostracized.
    Hope you all gave the newlywed a useful present. A present that will help them to start a new married life!

  4. Nicely written.

    Gifts are given among the relatives so that they will get the same thing in return.I remember my mom noted in a book what relatives gave me for my wedding and said that she has to gift them the same value when they have functions at there houses.

    Some people again gift wrap the gift they got and give it to someone else.

    For people like your maid,she has to be given money so that she can use if for the marriage,by giving a gift which is not used by them is not worth giving.

  5. sraboney, I agree that it is just show.
    UL being social need not go this way, don't you think?
    suman,giving is the most difficult thing. yes, I managed a decent gift eventually.
    saritha, welcome. i know of people who do what your mom does. It is probably a good idea in this petty minded world, so you are not on the wrong foot. You are right, money is most appropriate.

  6. So true! And nicely written. A month's wages would be perfect. I would have done the same. We spend so much on so many other things, its a shame that we tend to cut costs at the least appropriate time.

  7. knowing you, you followed your heart and did what was right... right smita??? three cheers to that... go with your instincts, and you'll never regret...


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