Relationships - The Art of Giving
Giving Giftso Spend time, not money
o Engage with the other
o Express your creativity
o Receive with grace
o View it not as a job but as an opportunity to both experience and share joy
On my 11th birthday, I received a collage with quotes and pictures of Enid Blyton characters from my grandfather. He knew I loved her books and so had taken the trouble to familiarize himself with them and had painstakingly made this for me. The thought, the dedication of time and the extraordinary effort that he had put in conveyed much more than an expensive gift could ever have done. Till date, it remains the most precious gift I have ever received.
At inexpensive restaurants in the south of France, two strangers sharing a small table at lunch, play out a quaint custom. They eat their food separately but treat the carafe of wine set at each plate very differently. One person lifts his or her own carafe and pours the wine into the other's glass. The neighbor then reciprocates. In a sense, nothing has happened. Two identical items have been exchanged and consumed. But this simple act sets in motion cordiality and conversation, establishing a social relationship.
The gift a brother gives his sister on Raksha bandhan, baby showers before a baby is born, presents exchanged during Diwali, Id and Christmas are all cultural norms that seek to bring us closer to one another, by giving us an opportunity to show we care.
In O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi, two impoverished lovers sacrifice their dearest possessions to buy gifts for each other. The man sells his watch to buy a set of combs for his wife's lovely hair, and she cuts off her hair and sells it to buy a strap for her husband's cherished watch. The gifts are now, of course, no use to both of them but the fact that they sacrificed so much for one another speaks volumes of their love.
Another wonderful story is Prem-chand's Idgah where a little boy spends the little money he has been given on Id to buy a 'chimta', a pair of tongs for his grandmother, who often gets her hand burnt while making chappatis for the family.
In Hindu mythology, Sudama, the childhood friend of Krishna, recollecting that Krishna liked a dish of puffed rice, carried it for him. On seeing him seated on the throne, however, he was embarrassed to give this humble gift but Krishna took it forcibly and thoroughly enjoyed it. All these tales illustrate that it is the thought and care behind a gift and not its material value that makes it memorable.
Generosity and Dharma
Practicing the art of thoughtful giving fosters a spirit of generosity, which in turn brings out the sense of oneness in us. This is why the 'dharma' of our tradition incorporated gift-giving as part of one's life. Prior to any important occasion - a wedding, the naming of a child or moving into a new house, gifts are given to one's relatives and others to }convey our gratitude to the universe.
One of the verses of the Thirukkural says, "The crow does not conceal its food from its fellows and calls them and willingly shares it with them. Only men of like nature prosper." To constantly remind us of this principle, people in the South are encouraged to offer some food to the crow every day and observe how it shares it with the entire group.
Dana, an extremely important tenet of Buddhism, is explained by Buddhist Avadana Jataka as "If living beings knew the fruit and final reward of generosity and the distribution of gifts …selfishness would not abide in their hearts."
Are we moving away from this core purpose of gift-giving by reducing it to a mere social obligation, or worse, one more avenue to flaunt one's status and wealth? Expensive sarees and jewelery, when chosen with love and taste, have their uses, but in truth the value of a gift is not measured in money. Prama Bhandari, an Art of Living teacher in Delhi, says, "Don't indulge in gift-giving as a means of outdoing one another but as a means of expressing and strengthening your relationship."
There is beauty in simplicity, and a simple gift is often the most precious. When Earl Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, announced that his nephew, Prince Philip, was engaged to Princess Elizabeth, Mahatma Gandhi spun them a tablecloth, which Mountbatten sent to Princess Elizabeth with the note, "This, you lock up with the crown jewels."
Engaging with the Other
When we give something because we feel that what we are giving would bring joy to the person receiving it, we are in engagement with the other.
Not one who necessarily gives gifts on occasions, Paro Anand, a writer for young adults in Delhi, does not like to shop under pressure of a deadline. Instead, she picks up gifts whenever she sees something absolutely suitable for someone, irrespective of whether there is an occasion or not. "It's not just the giving but the moment of seeing and picking up something which another would like, that is so joyous," she says.
Using our talents to create something that expresses ourselves while bringing about joy, is a wonderful way of giving, for in this way, we are not just giving 'a thing', but a part of ourselves.
Those who can paint can make a little personal painting of a theme the receiver would like. Those who write can write a poem or a story for the other.
My grandfather, a musician and lyricist, would compose songs with unique lyrics, based on the couples' names and professions, for the weddings in our family. Long after the wedding albums had become dog-eared, the couples still got immense pleasure in singing 'their' song and recalling the wonderful memories it invoked.
A gift that Ahalya Aravind, an HR professional in Chennai, prizes, is a Tanjore painting that her sister-in-law, Lakshmi, painted for her as a wedding present. Occupying a prime place in her drawing room, Ahalya considers it one of her most valuable possessions and says, "The care with which it has been done speaks volumes of her love for me."
SpeedPost by Shobha De, a collection of warm, affectionate and honest letters to her children, was written as a special gift to them for the new millennium to share her feelings at every stage of parenting. "If even half of them make sense to you and make you pause and reflect, the writing of this volume would be worth it," she says.
Even simple home-made concoctions are love gifts, when given with a spirit of sharing and caring. Don't we all remember the pickles, masalas and home-made sweets that we have received from our family and close friends?
A dear friend of mine, who is an extremely efficient homemaker, often comes over and helps in straightening up the home and kitchen for her friends.
Just when I was working on this article, two special birthdays were approaching - my mother-in-law's and that of a very dear aunt. Applying what I had learnt while working on this article, I wrote an amusing anecdote for both of them using an incident from our lives together. This process, by rekindling cherished memories, achieved the true purpose of gift giving.
Receive with Love
In Japan the polite way to open a present is to undo it carefully, without tearing the paper. Some people neatly fold the paper and save it for reuse. For tsusumu, or wrapping things, in Japan, signifies the spirit of giving not only of some material thing but of the feeling from the heart and hence, receiving is also to be done in the same spirit.
I remember a Parsi Navjote ceremony that I attended, where all of us received personalized thank you notes afterwards with a mention of how much they liked or enjoyed the dress/ book/ film which we had given. This brought us much more joy than any fancy return gift could ever have done.
At times, one may not wish to accumulate things, so what does one do ? Deal with it creatively. Prama's father on his 85th birthday informed all his well wishers in advance that they should give whatever they wished to give him to any charity in his name, so that he would feel gratified at having been of some use to a worthy cause. This worked wonderfully well.
Truly, the wonderful art of gift giving, when practiced in the right spirit, is sure to escalate the joy of all relationships.
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