The feminine art of gift-giving

Gift-giving has always posed an insurmountable problem for me. When I first acquired a girlfriend about half a century ago, at the age of 24, I was amazed at how she could give different people different gifts which never failed to please them enormously. Mine, in contrast, evoked a mere thanks. So I have always envied people who come up with innovative ideas about gifts. My imagination stops at books and whiskey for men. For women, I immediately think of saris. Safe. Predictable. And boring, is how my wife describes it. She has also accused me of buying books that I want to borrow, whiskey that I want to drink and, in the early years of marriage when smoking was permitted by wives, cartons of cigarettes I could smoke! This, I must say, is substantially true. I can hardly wear a sari, can I?

But over the years I have been shown how to expand my mind. A string of girlfriends, two sisters and one wife have drilled into my head a simple truth: application of mind. And they get their gift-giving right because they spend hours thinking about what to give. Sometimes they spend a great deal of money on merely going to the place which sells it. Once, in 1976, I drove a friend 90 km, one way, to buy a bronze figurine about 6-8 inches tall. The figurine cost ₹125, the petrol ₹50 and the lunch on the way back was ₹35. The gift was a super hit. It became a standard item for her and her friends for a year or two till they found something new.

My wife has accused me of buying books that I want to borrow, whiskey that I want to drink and, when smoking was permitted by wives, cartons of cigarettes I could smoke!

But marriage solves many administrative problems such as gift-giving. I outsourced it to my wife. She knows exactly what to give who and how much to spend on it. Needless to say women get better and more expensive gifts. In the first few years of marriage, the benchmark was ₹100 plus minus 20 per cent. The plus was for women. Now it is ₹1,000 plus minus 25 per cent. Happily the percentage of our incomes spent on gifts has come down from about five per cent per cent annually to the equivalent of a bread pakora at roadside kiosks.

And, to make things simpler, two new gift items have appeared in the market in the last decade or so — wine and potted plants. Both offer a huge range in content and price. In Gurgaon where I live, you can get a bottle of wine for as little as ₹1,000 and a potted plant for just ₹100.  Both have an uplifting quality and believe it or not, there is no transport cost. The shops selling both  are within walking distance. If there is a gift-giving heaven on earth, it’s here in Gurgaon.

But just as every solution must have a problem, having to choose between different wines and different plants is unexpectedly hard because you don’t really know what you are buying. In the case of wines, we go by label and price. In the case of plants, by the foliage and size of the pot. The wine, however, can be lousy and the plant, no more than a leafy branch stuck into a pot of mud. Both are thrown away after a couple of days and the person who you gave the gift to thinks you are a stingy fool. Total waste of money and goodwill.

So recently I proposed that we simply transfer cash electronically. The recipient could buy whatever he or she wanted. The idea was squashed with great force. “You idiot,” said my wife, “why do you think I go to such pains to remove the price tag?”

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