Loads of cups, plates and dinner sets. Heaps of bed covers. A number of table lamps. Stacks of clothes. Piles of flowers. Tons of cash and valuable metals. Countless idols of Lord Ganesha. These are just some of the things you’re highly likely to carry back home at the end of your wedding ceremony. More than what you need. More than what you can keep. More than what you want. And, worst of all, hardly any that match your taste. Weddings aren’t an exception in this regard. Many festivals, functions and celebrations generate hoards of meaningless gifts — only to be recycled and passed around in the future.
I live in a world where one is trained from a very young age to exhibit courtesy (or gratitude) through gifts. This is ingrained so deep in the society that on many occasions gifts have become a thoughtless obligation. It is often considered rude to not carry something. Receiving gifts during such obligatory occasions feels redundant, and conversely I feel pretty helpless when I’m forced to decide a gift for someone. Rarely am I able to come up with something that’ll suit the occasion, match the expectations and most importantly, make me happy and proud.
My parents have religiously purchased a gift on every such occasion. They always considered a few possible options and typically went for the most convenient one. In rare cases — for the closest friends and family — they planned far in advance and went out of their way to purchase a well thought gift. They further ensured that the marked price was scratched out from the package. In contrast, the norm across North India is to gift cash. It’s convenient, requires little thinking and gives the recipient a choice to buy what he / she wants (or needs). It’s like a “gift card” valid across every store. These cash gifts are popularly referred as shagun (a good omen), and the amount typically ends in ‘1’ which makes the value auspicious for reasons best known to no one. In fact, as I was growing up, cash gifts gave birth to an entire industry of coin envelopes which have a Re 1 coin pasted on them — more convenience for fulfilling obligations.
Cash gifts were a rare occurrence in my family, usually limited to informal meetings where the well-wisher and the recipient (typically a kid) were divided by a generation gap (or two). For example, if someone visited their relatives after a very long time, they’d usually give some money to the kids — say, the grandchildren or nephews / nieces — as “blessing”. While I was a child, every time I was offered such a gift my mom would opposed it and I joined her in opposition. Only if she relented would I, and often I handed the money to her instead of keeping with myself. In our society convenience trumps purpose, and over years I’ve found the trend of gifting cash growing in popularity. My opposition too has intensified, especially since I started making money and was empowered enough to meet my own needs.
A few years back my grandmom offered me some money and one uncle of mine noticed me vehemently refusing to accept it. I still remember his remark (to my grandmom) “Aapni dosh taka din, oo chot kore niye nebe” (Give him 10 rupees and he’ll accept it immediately). I sense he knew exactly how I felt about it. A gift, in my mind, is an attempt to shape your abstract feelings into a tangible form. Cash, quite to the contrary, strips away all the emotions and reduces the gift to a monetary value — in it’s purest form. The raw monetary value almost always overshadows the gesture. It is arguably the most unremarkable and thoughtless form of gifting, even if it were sealed inside a pretty envelope. I hate gifting an envelope. I hate accepting one.
Two weeks ago, on the occasion of Bhai Duuj, in spite of my repeated requests to avoid gifts I ended up receiving two envelopes. One from a younger cousin and one from an elder. I haven’t opened them yet. I’ve been indecisive about what to do with the money and the thought of discovering the value makes me a tad uneasy. My mom, on the other hand, managed to look into one of them and has asked me several times how much money the other one contains. She’s changed over the years. It took me a while, but I’ve finally decided to open them tonight and donate the money straight into my fund raiser which closes in a day or two. Perhaps I am clumsy. Or maybe uncool.
There was a third cousin. She gave me one handkerchief — the simplest one you’d have come across. I’m going to use it until the cloth rips apart.