Perfect Present

An e-mail I received from Good Earth recently read,“You’ve found everything you need in one person... now find everything you need for your home at one shop.”

Written by Leher Kala | Published:May 28, 2012 3:05 am

An e-mail I received from Good Earth recently read,“You’ve found everything you need in one person… now find everything you need for your home at one shop.” Good Earth and Fabindia now offer wedding registries,the very American concept of letting your friends and family know what you want as gifts and leading them to the stores you patronise. It’s still taking off since it’s just a few months old,but both stores say they’re receiving plenty of enquiries,though guests are still familiarising themselves with the idea.

In India,we have a long-standing tradition of shagun or presenting money in envelopes with gold threads,as gifts on auspicious occasions. It would be a real pity if the most practical and best gift ever (cold,hard cash) is replaced by a dinner set from a home store. Though a dinner set is infinitely preferable to receiving random silverware that clogs our cupboards and eats up storage space in our homes. I’ve yet to meet anyone who drinks or eats out of silver,but since it has value,you can’t chuck it. It makes you feel guilty while re-gifting because it is obviously something you don’t need yourself. Like fast food and Valentine’s Day,the gift registry is bound to catch on in India,even though the whole concept reminds one too much of a lame Hollywood romantic comedy. There is a hilarious Seinfeld episode where the four friends present a couple getting engaged with a fancy flat-screen TV. The couple end up splitting,but don’t return the TV. Logically,it makes sense for newly weds to spell out what they need,so they don’t end up with a cupboard full of expensive items they have no use for. It’s easier for the guests as well; they don’t have to wrack their brains to come up with an imaginative present. But despite practicality,is it appropriate and not a tad tacky to specify what gifts you want? The choice should rest entirely with the giver,not the receiver.

The wedding registry began as a convenience for the betrothed and their guests in a way that makes sense for our matter-of-fact lifestyles today,and as a way to avoid wastage. Even if the here’s-what-I-want list comes across as bluntly materialistic and more than a little presumptuous,it’s perfectly acceptable in many cultures,where,funnily enough,showing a preference for cash as a gift is considered crass. In India,the idea behind godh bharai,right before a baby is born,has its origins in the fact that parents need financial help to raise a new family member,so cash is the right gift. And anthropologists who have analysed the gift-giving ritual have come to the conclusion that people like surprise gifts less than they like cash.

Having said that,no matter what age you are,there is some excitement involved in tearing off wrapping paper and hopefully,exclaiming in happiness at the gift inside. I find choosing gifts a painful chore and clearly,so do most people; most high fashion and book stores offer the option of buying gift coupons,so the recipients can choose something themselves. The only gift I remember,come to think of it,was an iPod shuffle that I used everyday. As the old saying goes,it’s the thought that counts. But it should be accompanied with a gift of my choice.

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