Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The tyranny of buying the right gift

You’ve heard it said that it is very difficult to gift the one who has everything. I disagree.

First of all, there is no such thing as everything. The universe is constantly expanding and those who have everything today will necessarily need to have more when there is more to be had to ensure that they continue to have everything.

I believe that it is infinitely tougher to gift the person who does not want anything. Such people have few wants and are satisfied with the little they have. You can tear your hair out in desperation but you cannot draw such people out on the subject of what they would like to have. They will tell you that they have everything, that they hardly go out, and that if you got them something, they wouldn’t know how to use it, and they might just give it away.

Buying a gift for such people is a great challenge. I once faced such a challenge twice over. The occasion was the 25th wedding anniversary of my parents.

The clue to my parents’ attitude towards gifts lay in the fact that they were very self-effacing people. They put their needs last, after the monthly household requirements, the needs of the children and other miscellaneous requirements were satisfied. Since we were not ever well-off in those days, there wasn’t much spare change left over once the needs of three growing children were taken care of. And then, true to the best traditions of the great Indian middle class, they would set some money aside for the proverbial rainy day.

As children, we had seen the sacrifices that our parents had put in. Since this was a special occasion, I was determined to buy something special for them, one tiny gift (or two) that would indicate how much I loved them and how much they meant to me.

I had just graduated from college and had not yet landed my first job. I had a little money set aside though, my earnings from a few short pieces that I had written for a newspaper. The smallness of the budget reduced the shopping options available to me. And the fact that I was at the end of my tether as far as ideas went caused those few options to dwindle further.

Those were pre-mall days in Bombay. The only shopping places I knew of were Crawford Market, and Linking Road and Elco Market in Bandra, besides the odd store here and there. Where to go for the perfect gift, was the question.

The fact that I do not enjoy shopping as an activity also added to the difficulty of the task. I do not get a gleam in my eye at the thought of shopping, unless it is book buying that you are talking about. In college, with not particularly significant spending power, we used to enjoy window shopping. With this background, I was totally ill-equipped for the magnitude of the task.

Also, I tend to get rather intimidated by salespersons who always succeed in making me feel insignificant. I don’t know what it is about me, but they seem to size me up and then take it into their heads that they need to be judgmental and that I need some serious patronizing. In those days, I used to wish for a store in which there were no salespersons, where you could check things out for yourself, then take it to the counter and pay for it, and go out into the world, pleased with your purchase.

I don’t know why this is so. In general, I am a very confident and assertive person and I carry my pleasant weather everywhere I go. But park a salesman/girl in front of me, and suddenly I begin to wish for the earth to swallow me. Am I in a minority of one? Or are there others like me out there who are persecuted by the high-handedness of the shopfloor? Does the fear of salespeople have a name? Is it a phobia by itself?

An ex-colleague had once told me about a book called Confessions of a Shopaholic by someone called Sophie Kinsella. The book is about a girl who is a compulsive shopper and who runs up enormous amounts in credit card debt as a result of her addiction. Even as a fictional premise, I couldn’t relate to the plot of her book. Could there be any hope for me? Would I be able to purchase something special for Mum and Dad?

When ideas are scarce, we quickly turn to the mundane. Dreams of buying that perfect gift starved quickly. So as a last-ditch effort, I thought of buying clothes for them. But clothes posed their own brand of difficulty. Mum and Dad refused to accompany me, for the purpose of selecting and trying on something. Bereft of their support, I remember walking up and down the store fronts of Crawford market, without being able to make up my mind as to what to buy. With my not-so-heavy budget and my parents’ general unwillingness to accept a gift, I wasn’t sure of my ability to give them a pleasant surprise.

I thought of a watch, but they both said theirs were working fine, thank you. When I spoke about shoes, they said they had bought new pairs two Christmases ago, and both were as good as new. Telephones had not yet become a commonplace possession (Incoming became free only 10 years later in 2003). I thought of buying some music cassettes, but I wasn’t so comfortable buying Konkani music. I didn’t have the budget to take the family out to a restaurant for a nice dinner.

Basically there were so few options and I had so few ideas, that I finally gave up the attempt to buy the perfect gift in frustration. As D-day drew near, I was no closer to my goal.

That was when I thought of giving them a more personal something, to show them how much they meant to me, and how important this day was to us. So on behalf of my two brothers, I sat down and wrote this poem. The writing wasn’t as easy as turning on a tap. But that was alright. The effort was part of the gift. This is what I wrote:

25 years since you walked down the aisle
And said to each other, I do
25 years since the time you made vows
Of being ever faithful and true.

25 years have gone by since that day
The years have sped by so fast
And though the world has changed in that time
Love every test has passed.

And today is the day of that special moment
25 Novembers ago
And here we are gathered, family and friends,
That precious joy to echo.

25 years of loving and sharing
25 years of care
25 years of tender affection
25 years of just being there.

And tonight when champagne glasses will tinkle
And feasting will be underway
The children whose lessons of life came from you
In their hearts a blessing will pray

May there be many more of such valued moments
May the best things in life come to you
And in its time may silver turn gold
Happy Wedding Anniversary, God bless you.

Next month, Mum and Dad will celebrate yet another wedding anniversary. This time I am prepared with a bigger budget, and a wider variety of options to be exercised from the comfort of my home. Who’s afraid of salespeople?

This post is a part of the contest at BlogAdda.com in association with Badhai.in


  1. It's full of emotions. I too had this experience (quite similar!). Nice one! All the best! :)

  2. I'm sure they absolutely loved your present!!
    I am the same way as you about shopping...if not for books, I'm just not into it!!

  3. Thanks, Gayatri. I hope you had better luck finding the perfect gift.

  4. Hi Roshni,
    Oh, they did. We didn't have a party back then, but a few of our closest relatives and family friends dropped in to wish my parents. Mum and Dad showed them the little sheet of a notepad with the handwritten poem on it with such pride that I thanked God for putting the right words into my head.

  5. Hey Cynthia, I loved your gift and I am sure your parents would have loved it more than clothes, shoes, watches etc. Awesome way of portraying your emotions. Loved it.

  6. Thanks, Ashish. My parents loved it too. Hope you and your family are doing great.

  7. That was touchy and I could relate well :-) Good



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