Monday, February 29, 2016

The Gift of the Magi

In an age of abundance, what do gifts mean?

While the question might be a first time in this blog, the tone of the discussion won't be anything new if you have been here long enough.

When we were kids, I looked forward to grandmothers visiting with us in Neyveli not only because it would be fun times but also because of the awesome therattipal.  For that matter, even now, practically every time I have a phone conversation with a great-aunt, she recalls how my brother and I loved the nendra pazham jam that she made.

All those sweets were like the gazillion awesome tasty stuff that were all home-made.  I remember them, and recall them so fondly, because they were all made by hand by my grandmothers and aunts.  If they had brought with them sweets and snacks that they had purchased from the store, I doubt that I would have such fond memories of food and people.  Which is also why I don't have any special memories of, say, Tirunelveli halva--as much as I liked them then, well, they were always from the halva store.

Now, during my visits to India, rarely do people seem to make sweets and snacks at home.  There, too, like here in the US, abundance is clearly visible.  Restaurants are in plenty and all of them seem to be forever filled with customers.  Therattipal is not a big deal anymore--it is available any day at the store that is round the corner from my parents' home.  Oddly enough, I don't enjoy those sweets--what my mother makes is infinitely tastier, because she makes it.

So, back to the question of what gifts mean in an age of abundance.  And more than that, what do gifts mean for relationships?

We live in a world where we rarely ever spend a great deal of our time in order to make a gift.  We buy stuff made somewhere in China and warehoused somewhere we don't know, and pass it along as a gift.  We do not even bother to write personalized notes and, instead, outsource those sentiments to greeting card manufacturers.

The other day, I played a mixed-tape that dates back--way back almost three decades ago, to my graduate school days.  My grad school friend, Praveen, had recorded a mix of songs by various artists and had also written down the names of the songs and the artists.

Imagine the time and effort that Praveen must have spent on creating that 90-minute mixed-tape.  What might be the contemporary equivalent of that gift, in a world in which we stream digital music from the cloud?  I am stumped!

There is something odd with this contemporary abundance.  Or, perhaps I am the one who is messed up and is a misfit, in which case all I need to do is wait out the time that remains.


Ramesh said...

I think it is less to do with abundance and more to do with insensitivity. Even if something is abundant, if its gifted with thought and feeling it becomes invaluable. Take flowers. There are flowers everywhere. But giving flowers to a dear one, without an occasion, is still a great gift.

If we define gift as the physical expression of an emotional closeness, then perhaps each gift, however trivial, is very special.

Sriram Khé said...

But, I think it is abundance that also breeds the behavior that you refer to as insensitivity. A few years ago, back in California, when I invited a White American and his wife over for dinner at home, he later remarked that maybe the affluence of the US has made people forget what it means to share a meal with others. The affluence means that kids now do not have a great deal of respect for the gift--in the days of limited means, gifts were rare, but not anymore. Even wedding gifts seem to have lost any significance.

Anne in Salem said...

We can't give up hope. The kids will learn. Everyone appreciates thoughtful gifts, whether store-bought or homemade. We just need to think a bit more and not just grab the nearest gift card.

Sriram Khé said...

Glad you are optimistic ;)