Monday, May 22, 2006

The best wedding gift?

5 clocks, 6 casseroles, 10 tea-sets, 4 flasks, and 8 Ganesha wall-plates. Familiar? It is a list of just a few of those things that find their way into your hands, beautifully wrapped, in the name of wedding presents. And more often then not, the newly weds do not use it at all, but banish them to a life in the lofts of their parents' homes, unpacked, untouched, nearly forgotten. [Or, yes, recycled!]

I have been wondering whether, in India, the practice of gift-giving has come down through the ages, or whether it has been borrowed from the west. Probably it did exist to some extent. Since the young couple usually lived in a joint, extended family, there would be nothing that they would need, per se. But probably they were given gold and silver, by well-meaning relatives, as a private investment.

Later, as young men moved into cities to find work, they needed to set up independent homes in the city. Then they would definitely have needed material or monetary assistance. The man was usually the sole bread-winner, with a not-too-large salary. Half his home could be set up with the right kind of gifts. Cash would have been welcome too. Then, perhaps, a carefully chosen wedding gift was invaluable to the young couple.

In present times, usually both the bride and the groom work for a living. And in places like Bangalore, there is a high probability that both of them work in the IT industry, and they earn enough, and more. Or on the other hand, the couple has plans to settle down in the US. When such people get married, what can you possibly give them? This is the age when everybody has strong likes and dislikes. Unless you know the couple well, how can you be sure of a gift which they will like for sure? Giving them cash might be a good alternative, but what is the right amount to give them? Ok, you might say, the gift or the amount is not important, it is the thought that counts. Fine. But at what cost?

My grandparents went through this dilemma, and got really confused, especially when it came to a gift for a US-bound couple. They couldn't think of anything that the couple would have been able to use. If they had to give them cash, how much would be a good amount? What would 100 rupees mean to the newlyweds? Two dollars? Finally my grandparents started doing the best thing. They stopped giving gifts. [Unless they specifically knew what the young couple would like.] And actually, nobody really minds, or cares.

But many people still think that gifts are a necessity. So they turn up with these time-tested gifts of a clock, or a flask, or wall-hanging. And since everybody has the same bright idea, you get enough stuff to start a shop with.

Then there is the bouquet trend. Can't think of a gift? Take a fancy bouquet of flowers. "In the wedding video, it won't look like you went empty-handed". Bah! And at the end of it all, the poor flowers wilt in the dustbin.

When I was to get married, we wrestled with the thought of adding the line "No presents please" in the wedding card. But it looked very awkward. So we did not say anything. Instead, my mother talked to her close relatives and friends, and anyone else she could influence, and told them not to bother about giving me gifts. Or that she would let them know if I wanted something specific (Which I did not). Or, she told them, if you are really bent upon giving them something, give them cash.

It worked quite well. Apart from cash, we got only 4 tea-sets, 2 casseroles, 3 Ganesha wall-plates, and......well, you get the picture.

Oh yes, we did get some extremely thoughtful, personalised, and memorable gifts too. But a lot of thought, time and love had gone behind those gifts.

Then, we also received gift-vouchers. Lots of them. And we found that it was not a bad idea at all. We could buy what we wanted. S and I decided that if ever we are caught in a what-do-we-give-them dilemma, we will fall back on gift vouchers.

Those gifts in their boxes in the lofts make me cringe whenever I see them. There are a few items which I think I will be able to use sometime in the future, but I know for sure that I will not use most of them at all. What a waste of money! At these times I wish I had explicitly mentioned that I would not accept any gifts. But some people would have still insisted on giving a gift, as a token of love. So what could I have done instead?

Last week, I got a wedding invitation from Sanjay, a blogger friend I have never met. His mail contained some personal words of invitation, and then he wrote:

Please do not bring any gifts or flower bouquets.
*************************************************
IF you like - you may present the same amount as cash, which we will be happy to consolidate and transfer on your behalf to some people working for our society. There are countless NGOs doing all kinds of things. Not that I've been actively involved or done anything significant, but there are a few names I've grown to trust, for example Parikrama, (genuinely high quality education for slum children) or Samarthanam, (enabling the disabled) or a friend's mother who is working with some government schools, where all it costs for a child's schooling for ONE WHOLE YEAR is around Rs 1000! You might as well give it to them directly instead of giving it to us, we're merely a means of convenience that's all :-)

Sanjay, I am impressed. I wish I had thought of this.

[An old post on giving gifts.]

47 comments:

Anu said...

That is surely a novel idea. How sensible. Some gifts are such a waste of money, specially those that are manufactured as a 'gift items'. They have no use for anyone except in exchange. Sanjay deserves our congratulations!

bellur ramakrishna said...

shruthi, your description was so perfect that i could see those Presents/Gifts on top of the ATTA/Godrej beeru!
and yes, COMMON MAN Sanjay deserves appreciation for the UNCOMMON act.
Want to share this story that happened with a friend: As usual, he had received a wedding gift. He had thought of giving some unused ones to other couples for their wedding (type of recycling). It so happened that the gift he had received from an elderly couple was given to their son for his wedding. Unfortunately for my friend, the elderly couple's name was engraved on the silver bowl on the gift.
PTD. BY: SMT/SRI......
TO: CHI. RY.(MY FRIEND'S NAME)
My friend cut a sorry figure when he got a call from them!
Husharagilde idre bahala kashta!

Anonymous said...

Brought tears and reminded me of this incident. Once, I had asked my parents to make sweets on diwali for a children's home of which I was very much a part then. They plainly said no, there will be many giving sweets on the same day and they might not require the same then. Let us do it on your birthday and they eventually did. I had no words to thank them.
- Raaji

Srik said...

I've seen some functions when the organising family buy sarees and clothes to those who are the immediate relatives and friends. They present them with these valuable 'gifts' when inviing them for the function. In return those families who have accepted the gifts would give them 'gifts' of sarees and clothes to the parents and some silver or something to the bride/groom. This culture has come up to spoil the bonding between the humans now a days. I'm surprised, when some one has to return the gifts they get, why give it to them at all!!! Is it the way to show one is supreme over another?!! A condemning development.

Recently I visited one of my grand mother's sisters with my aunt. we invited them for a function, and as a token of respect to the elderly couple, presented them a saree and other clothes. The grand mother couldnt accpet the gift with good intensions. She had to do something about it. Went in and searched a saree herself from her collection of new sarees and got one, gave it to my aunt at the very moment. It was a thing less than awkward for me. Why give it to them when they are returning it at all!
And the best thing among this bargain was the saree the Grand Mother 'paid back' happened to be one given to her daughter by my mother on some other occasion!!
Felt really sick about it.

Manasi said...

HOw true! In Pune atleast (becuase I have hardly any idea of places outside) te entire trend of gift giving has been reduced drastically. We mention it explicitly on the weding cards and no one takes offence. Everybody understands :) Only very close relatives like grandparents or the like are people who you just cannot refuse, but then they usually gift something that your parents wanted to buy as a part of the wedding shopping, and it acts two ways...... gifts bhi dediye aur parents ka kharcha bhi khuch had tak bacha liya! :)

Anonymous said...

As a rule ( also as convinience ) I dont give gifts. I just dont like to. If people want to feel bad about me, so be it!
But I liked your friend's idea :) Had seen ppl who had done it before without actually writing it on the invitation but this way atleast you can make people not to buy unwanted gifts ( just for the heck of it ). All said and done, the culture will remain and many people infact like the whole idea of giving and recieving gifts!

bellur ramakrishna said...

and shruthi, read your other post on giving gifts. very well written.

Shastri said...

I really appreciate the way Sanjay has taken. I got married few months ago too but was not as selfless. We asked all the friends and nearest family to either give us cash or subsidize something we need :) It worked fairly well but of course we still left a ton of steel utensilts, enough wall pieces to cover salarjang museum all over again and shirt pieces and sarees at our parents'.
I guess what Sajay is doing must be encouraged and I will surely spread a word around!

Shruthi said...

Anu: Exactly! I really cannot stand those "gift items"! No use, and just a waste of money for the giver, and a waste of space for the receiver!

Bellur Ramakrishna: Heh heh, thank you!
Ohhhoo that must have been so embarrassing for your friend!! I have heard similar stories, but there was no concrete proof that it was the same gift :) Here, the writing gave it all away! Moral - check for engravings on steel vessels before recycling :)
And thanks for the compliment on the older post!

Raaji: What a beautiful gesture!

Shruthi said...

Srik: Yeah... gift giving has been reduced to "repaying" and oneupmanship. Very sad. It is all the more unfortunate that you had to see your mother's gift being recycled that way!
Moral - when giving a gift, make sure it is a good one... It might come back to you :D

Manasi: That's great! Yeah, I know what you mean by close relatives chipping in with gifts which are a part of the wedding shopping. That happens here too... and it is beautiful and practical!
My grouse is against the compulsion of having to gift gifts when the giver and receiver are not in the same inner close circle. When gifts have to be given out of formality!
Writing "no gifts please" is catching on, but don't know why, it sounds strange. Maybe we just need time to get used to it.

Anon: Very easy for you, in that case :) And very easy for people who are in a situation where they might have to give you gifts :)
Yes, this culture will not go away so soon, because, as you say, for some people, giving and taking gifts plays a huge role in their lives!

Shastri: Actually yours was a good idea. You needed stuff, and you asked for what you want. Perfect, practical! Like I told Manasi, if you tell your close friends and family what you want, the problem is solved for both parties :)
Me laughing at "enough wall pieces to cover SalarJung museum" :)))

Anonymous said...

btw dont worry, I would not refuse when ( not if ) you give gifts ;)

Anonymous said...

reminds me of this....our whole group follow the policy of no gifts! even then one of our friends had put a line saying without gifts we need not attend his marriage. We, however, took it in the right spirit. Not only attended the marriage, we 'blessed' the couple and enjoyed the food without bothering abt gifts!

Suresh said...

I remember the gifts my sister got at her wedding. It included all of what you've listed and more. Flower vase with Artificial dusty flowers, 'engraved' steel vessels (that i traced back to the source :P)..to name a few.

But then again, there ARE some people who expect these gifts... from steel vessels to Ganesha wall-plates..and it becomes a big issue if you go without gifts.

An excellent idea by Sanjay that can be followed in case of those close to us: immediate family and friends.(to relatives, its a big NO...i'd rather not Go :) ).

Wonderful post..keep writing. :)

Shruthi said...

Anon: I knew it was too good to be true :)

Anon at 4:00 Convenient huh? :))
Are you the same Anon? Please leave a name :(

Suresh: Flower vase with artificial flowers :))) How could I forget that :D
That's the problem! That ppl still expect these gifts, however useless they might be!
Hey you have a blog now? You are U's bro thaane? ;)

bellur ramakrishna said...

" No gifts requested. Your presence with us on this special day will be our cherished gift."

i think this way you will not be hurting anyone.

Suresh said...

Hey Shruthi,

Howdu I'm U's bro' and yep I do have a blog now :)

cheers..!!

Anonymous said...

Shruthi, after reading this, I'm not so sure if the gift I gave you for your wedding was such a good idea after all.Were these thoughts going on behind those "thank you" smiles while accepting the gifts? You should have been clear and assertive about these things.

Shruthi said...

Bellur Ramakrishna: No question of hurting anybody! Mentioning gifts in the card, apparently sounds suggestive, somewhat like a reminder.. Funny, somehow.

Suresh: Great! Keep blogging :)

Anon: If you are the Anon I suspect you are (Why don't people leave their names ;)) - then don't worry - in case you don't remember, I had told you that I was planning to buy that thing, even before you gave it to me. :) And, no, I don't know how to pretend. :)
I did think twice before posting this - that people would take this blog personally. Did not really think you would, though ;) -- I did not know you still read my blog :D

Ranjit Nair said...

Shruthi, You are right about the 'No gifts' disclaimer on invitations; they do look akward, and on occaison, even hypocritical. After all, who does not like a thoughtful gift? Perhaps the disclaimer ought to be worded differently.

One thing I personally would love to put: 'No idli-plates as gifts please'; I hate the damn things (idlis)! But yeah, I wouldn't put the 'no gifts' thingy on mine either; too greedy for that ;)!

Amodini said...

Gift certificates, donations to a charity are really good gifts. What's also popular here are "gift registeries" where the couple registers at a store with a list of items that they need from the store. The gift-giver can then choose any item from that list, buy and gift it. It sounds practical and sensible, but smacks a little of "expectation" to me, for desis especially, because we are so "oh, no, no we don't want gifts" superficially.

It's a little awkward to go without a gift if you don't know the person well, so the donation thing makes for a nice compromise.

Supremus said...

Actually I would feel a little ackward if someone were to write "no gifts" on an invitation and give me.

Gifts have an emotional value to them - as we've begun to live more and more practical life, I guess repetative gifts dont seem to hold any value to us anymore.

I personally think Sanjay's act, thougha appreciable in its nature is quite well... "over-smart" I did say. I mean, I need not be reminded about what I can do for NGO and poor and others on your invitation card - that much I am smart myself hehe :)

Invitations are tricky business... sigh :(

Sandesh said...

Gift vouchers are a way out.
If they are avid readers, a gift voucher from a bookstore would do. Or a gift vouchers from one of the big shops. We do this regularly at our office. You know better :-)

nagraj said...

One way out is to put a remark "All major credit cards accepted" in the invitation card and temporarily install a machine for accepting the cards ;).

Bru said...

Imagine the waste of resources involved in manufacturing useless gift items!
Without knowing the person`s likes and dislikes, giving a gift just for the sake of giving is a waste of money to the givers, since most of the times the item is useless and turns out to be a headache for the recievers-sorry for the receiver's parents ;)
Whole hearted best wishes are more important than gifts, right?
Sandesh's idea is good.
Nagraj's is much better, since you can collect more money.... ;)

Shruthi said...

Ranjit: Specifically worded disclaimers, huh :D The disclaimer will be longer than the invitation itself, if I would be asked to write it :)

Amodini: Yeah, I have heard of registries... they are so practical that I feel it goes a little overboard :D. The joy of receiving a thoughtful gift is lost ;) - but yes solves so many problems ;)

Suyog: Gifts are definitely special! But not those that are given for the sake of giving!
About Sanjay, had he put this same thing on the traditional invitation card, it would have probably sounded "over-smart". But he has nothing like that on the card. He has added these words in his mail to us - and I personally liked it :)
Ahh yes, invitations are tricky indeed!

chitra said...

shruthi, An article on gifts again.
it is 12 years of my marriage and we have still got the casseroles and the glass plates etc on the shaft.

i did suggest to my sister to take it as her dowry. My sister , in ordr to avoid this, invited only the very near and dear ones for the wedding! Not even all the relatives.

PRIDERA said...

Sanjay surely deserves Kudos !
Its a very noble idea indeed !

As for the wedding gifts, I completely agree with your thoughts. When I first learnt about the WEdding registry trend in the US, I was kinda annoyed and surprised. How could someone ask for something from their guests I reasoned. But now, I really see it as a good trend. You may present any amount of cash or buy the actual gift. That way atleast the gift is not wasted.

Shruthi said...

Sandesh: Yup! Gift vouchers for a book shop, for a book-loving couple, is by far the best thing I can think of :)

Nagraj: Heh heh :) And one person exclusively assigned to operate the machine, huh? :D

Bru: Heh heh :))
Yup, heartfelt wishes, and help is better than useless gifts. Note the term "useless". Will not say "no" to nice gifts :D

Shruthi said...

Chitra: A novel way to solve the gift problem, huh?

Pridera: Yeah! And it's a safe bet!

Supremus said...

Hey Shruthi,

My bad then - I misunderstood; I thought it was on invitation; my apologies to Sanjay and you... yes, I would think that would be a great gesture...

Cheers,

Suyog

Bhargav said...

On a lighter note, this post might put small emporium owners out of business!! The occasion you invite people for, is to meet them and talk to them. I guess gifting is just a good gesture and not an obligation. Some people get caught up giving mundane gifts. In the US, you have to wait for the holiday season to gift, coz the prices are comparatively high during the off-season.

Shruthi said...

Suyog: Ohho!! You thought it was on the invitation card! :D

Bhargav: Ah! If only my blog had that much power to influence :D

travel plaza said...

Shruti,
I am a fairly new blogger. Have been blogging for just the past few weeks. I found your blog through Mridula's. Wonderfully written. It reminded me of all the gifts I got for my wedding, which was a quite a few years back. On my most recent trip to India, I brought down all the boxes from the shelf and picked out some stuff I could use and donated the rest.
Gift giving has lost its value over time. Your friend's idea was excellent. Here in the US too I have come across people asking guests to donate directly to a cancer research fund or some such other organization. Its a fabulous idea and I wish more people would do it...

Great blog!

Kalyan said...

I too like the idea of Gift Vouchers. Gives the flexibility in spending plus (can't really say why) feels better than cash in an envelope.

I got one for Sanjay from landmark, but unfortunately neither could attend the wedding nor could give it to him yet. Though, I was happy to know this morning that one of my charlie chaplin VCDs was with him to test the new DVD player they got (gift?)!

I wonder if I had a way to CC this comment to sanjay :)

Sachin said...

Shruthi, keep it up!!!

Good on Sanjay....sure makes sense. If one is clear about the fact that they don't need the gift in "cash" that people will insist on showering them with, its better off contributing to the good of the needy.

While on the wedding gift thing, I feel that the most practical thing to give someone is cash. It really does not matter what the quantum is. You have to take into consideration a combination of your own resources and your relationship with the receipient. Apne pair wahin tak failaane chahiye jitni chaadar ho. :) You also have to remember that there would be a lot of people giving cash. And it won't matter to the couple how much each guest gives. Any addition to the coffer would be welcome especially for couples who would be in the growth phase of life.

Btw, am still counting the number of steel utensils, tea cup sets and glasses we got as gifts for our wedding!! :)

chitra said...

Tee hee...I can sure do this Shruthi :)!

Shruthi said...

Travel Plaza: Welcome! And thank you :) Yes, this is a wonderful idea, and I hope the trend catches on!
Keep blogging!

Kalyan: Yes :) Gift vouchers do look better than cash in the envelope :) But there is a small problem even there. You might end up giving a voucher of a shop or a product which the couple might not have any use for :D. Of course that's pretty rare, though!
I couldn't attend Sanjay's wedding, either. Traffic jam + Rain. I was all set to go :(
Sanjay will definitely read this comment here ;) Or I will fwd it to him :)

Sachin: Thank you :)
Cash yes, theoretically the best. But deciding on the right amount is not as easy as it might sound :) There are a million things you need to think about! I am not talking about myself, but about people in general.
I just noticed, that most of the married people who commented have mentioned such presents stacked away somewhere :)

Chitra: Oh yes, you will have a choice :)

Abhinav said...

Gone are the days of clocks, tea-sets....my cousin got married and i have not seen any of the items as gifts..nor the flowers...ppl have actually become innovative while gifting,,,like someone gave a Hand Made Card.
and yea gift-vouchers are a smart choice

Shruthi said...

Abhinav: I am not that old either :D I got married less than a year back, and I still got tea sets. Very good ones, yes, but still. Yes, gifts are getting innovative, but the usefulness hasn't increased, either ;) [Speaking broadly]

vyomini said...

Can you please go and visit http://blanknoiseproject.blogspot.com/
This is a drive against EveTeasing. If possible, please put a post on your blog to spread the word...

Shruthi said...

Vyomini: That drive happened back in March. I have two posts on my blog about it - one is my testimonial, and in the other, I have analyzed why eve-teasing occurs. They are here - http://nychthemeron.blogspot.com/2006/03/can-you-hear-it.html and http://nychthemeron.blogspot.com/2006/03/why.html.

Mridula said...

So very thoughtful of your friend. This is the best thing I read in all the day.

Shruthi said...

Mridula: Yup, lovely thought :)

Swathi said...

and then there r questions of 'what did they give u?' by our elders who always would want to give back a gift amounting to the same value...

this one sounds really like a novel idea and wud love to see more of these implemented.

Sanjay M said...

[Have a long backlog of emails/etc to respond to, but just starting off from here :) ]

Shruthi, what a surprise to see this idea being noted here, and its quite an honor for me! Also was really fun to read all the comments and anecdotes here as well! :-)

Though this idea was original for me, came to know from one of the guests that its becoming an increasingly common thing in the US nowadays. I hope the non-giving dosen't become a ritual as well ;-) This gesture is certainly not because I don't care about money anymore (I certainly do!)

Must say I was somewhat was influenced by this story...

---------

"PT and I were walking down the streets the other day and we saw a really old man sleeping on a torn cloth bag, with a thin shawl covering his body. PT befriended him at first, and when I went up to him to give him an extra blanket, he tells me, 'Son, give this to someone who needs it more. I am cold, but at least, I have this one shawl.'

----------

Supremus:

I need not be reminded about what I can do for NGO and poor and others on your invitation card - that much I am smart myself hehe :)


Supremus, appreciate your apology later - still I'd like to address this point - its quite valid I think and thanks for openly expressing it!

Giving gifts is definitely an expression of love, as some have noted - of emotional value. Neither the giving nor the not-giving should be blindly ritualized - I understand this is one of the basic point of Shruthi's post as well.

So the idea of mentioning these particular 2 NGOs was that I have a personal affiliation with them and care about them. I am not in a position to ask people to go and donate money to anybody. I am saying - "if at all, whatever it is you would like to spend on me, spend it on them instead" :-) Probably I might've worded it better but in any case I agree its a tricky thing! Btw came to know (recently) that to some guests its a prestige thing, they feel embarassed to go to such a social function without any gift esp when there's video coverage (and it will go on record! ;) ).

Shruthi, some day you might consider another post on receiving gifts? Esp if a boquet is being given by a kid, I try and make it a point to really bend down and tell him/her that the gift is lovely (flowers generally are!) and for one of the kids I took a rose and kept it in my jacket pocket for that photograph.

Once, one of my school friends gave me a flower boquet. I liked the unique colors of the roses, and another elderly lady nearby (one of my mom's colleagues whom I'd only known very vaguely) also appreciated them. I suddenly picked one flower from the boquet and gave her... and she gave a surprised smile. Then I gently pulled out a lot more flowers as well... somehow that didn't seem to affect the whole boquet much. For me they were one more boquet among dozens of them, but for her they were individual flowers. Neither she nor my friend took it seriously or negatively. I explained to my friend that his gift had proved to be really worthwhile seeing her so delighted! :-) In this case I wasn't so sure, had he been a closer friend, I'd have just given her the whole boquet!

Ramakrishna, those wordings "your presence..." are indeed a good and safer alternative.

Hey Kalyan will catch up with you next week! (Yeah the video player was my cousin sister's gift!)

--------

Btw wrt implementation of the idea:

Very few of the people to whom I sent the email with these words actually turned up due to heavy rains that evening. Still its hard to know exactly who gave how much because in the commotion I don't know who has all the gifts (still not opened any of them as we've been busy with guests at home).

As a learning, I'd suggest that in case anyone wants to implement this can take a bit of additional care so that such contributions reach the destination earlier without getting mixed up with everything else and having to wait to sort things out.

-----------

MANY THANKS to everyone for all the appreciation - its really very encouraging!

Shruthi said...

Swathi: Yup! Oneupmanship again!!

Sanjay: Thanks a lot for your comment, explanations and suggestions :) Everybody seems to be major impressed with you :)
Receiving gifts - certainly a topic on it's own! Maybe you should consider writing about it yourself! ;)

niju said...

hey shruthi,
i got really impressed by the way u write on any topic.Its a kind of story telling. I felt like reading a rk narayan story.I came to know from this blog that ur married please write something about married life in general.

- -