Monday, October 22, 2012

The art, science and politics of gifting

Expectant faces look on as a box wrapped in shiny colorful paper is handed to you. The jumpy seconds of wondering what might be in it. Some painstakingly peel out every inch of cello tape and others believe in ripping out the whole damn thing too eager to discover what’s inside. As soon as the gift is out, the gaze of everyone shifts from the gift to you eagerly waiting for your response….Uhuh!! Your smile freezes as you look at the gift … turns out to be an antique piece of jewelry which you are definitely not into….but there are all those faces looking up at you. So you try your best to make your fake appreciation sound genuine and hope you did a convincing job!!

Well, i am sure all of us have been through this awkward situation at least once in our lives. i know it is rude to not like a gift someone’s probably put so much thought (and money) into. But gifting is a such a gamble that i guess there are only 50-50 chances of the receiver liking it. It’s one of the great dilemmas of my life to find the right gift for someone. i have realized that gifting is as much an art as it is a science. And there’s a lot of politics in between!

It’s a tricky business, this! We play by general rules. The more thoughtful the gift is the more likely the receiver will enjoy it. Stick to plausible choices like favourite colours and things that people are likely to use. Or go by the age of the person. So no flashy stuff for anyone above 50 (unless  someone’s as young as Shobha De is just like our country!) But to get a gift right and the other person genuinely liking it is no short of an art. i remember when my sister’s sister-in-law (yeah!), who hardly kinda knows me, sent a top for me and it not just fit me but was also my kind of dress! Now that’s the art of gifting that i am talking about!

Once you get the art of figuring out what someone would like guessing from their age, lifestyle, general dressing/buying habits, it all boils down to the science of gifting. Finding something that would match up to your findings and fir the mould of someone’s tastes. Sometimes we might not be able to match it up bang on and make a discovery that your friend, spouse, son-in-law also likes something like this! It’s like a whole lab out there! 

What makes an ideal gift? Something that you like or feel the other person will like. The whole failure lies in trying to choose the exact purse that your friend might have chosen if she were to buy it or finding the precise pink that your mom-in-law will love! That is not going to happen since they are they and you are you! So we’d make better choices if we stopped trying to step onto others’ minds!

Politics is invariably a part of gifting. Gifts are generally on a pro-rata basis in terms of how are you related and how deep is the relationship. Or what did you get as your wedding/birthday from others. Sometimes it’s just about we-have-to-give-a-gift-and-it-doesn’t-matter-what!!! It also has a whole lot of class concerns. We have to give more expensive gifts because we have a class to maintain and financial status to flaunt! This comes out in a lot of North Indian (read Punjabi) weddings where expensive stuff has to be given because it’s for the whole world to see and not essentially of use to the couple!

The worst case of the gifts come out when there’s no art, only science and politics that gifts have to be given, it doesn’t matter what you gift. i recently came across an incident where a group of friends bought sarees for each other even though each agreed they would probably not be able to wear them since being 80+yrs old kept them pretty much at home! The gifts were exchanged but would only end up in cupboards with no actual joy of using it for the receiver. Others who understood the concept ended up getting a variety of things which might or might not be for future use.

That set me thinking! Arts, science and politics apart, is gifting an article really that important? Does it always have to be a pen- which will end up as just as another one in the stand, a purse - which might not even be to the taste of the person, clothes - which we would anyways buy. Hence the new concept in gifting - gift an experience. A day at a spa worth 5000 bucks is better than a designer bag which is an object at the end of the day. A holiday package where people can relax on their special day makes more sense than a present they might occasionally use. But, to me, this is also about the monetary value of the gift. It’s comes easy - go online and order the voucher!

So what would be the best present? Time, perhaps. Our precious time spent with our family, friends and loved ones. Making the day memorable with our presence so that we collectively think of good times together rather than the expensive cocktail glass set of which 2 glasses are broken in no time and the set can’t be used anymore! This becomes even more priceless especially in today’s times when time is the more scarce resource we have. So to gift our time for someone else is what truly says we care! We’ll really have to break through our whole materialistic perspective to be able to do this! Don’t just think an object when you think of gifting, just think different!


  1. Gifts are a way to show you care.
    Earlier it was Easier to know likes and dislikes of people when there was limited choice.
    Now it is a bit more complicated since there are so many options to choose from.
    I always maintained that the "Gift of Time" is the most important gift because only you can give it to the one you love and / Or care about, and you can't Exchange it for more or less.