I REMEMBER a time, several years ago, when I used to look forward to the visits of a maternal uncle and a family friend from the Gulf.
The two men would come once in two years with goodies — colour pens, perfumes, dresses in garish colours and wild patterns and once even a chain with a locket watch. The distinct foreign scent that wafted out of the packet took my breath away as I gratefully accepted whatever came with it, doing nothing to hide my toothy glee, although mom and dad protested to the gifting that by then had become a happy routine.
My sister and I wore the pleated skirts and twirled like ballerinas, sprayed the scent all over us, slung the mini purse from abroad on the shoulder, peppered our speech with accent and acted like foreign madams. Those were days when gifting wasn’t mere posturing or formality; it was a gesture that was imbued with a sanctity largely missing today. Much as it was a ritual to carry presents when one visited relations and friends on a vacation home, there was a genuine sentiment of joy in both giving and receiving, no matter how big or small the present was. Even scented erasers and 3D rulers were prized possessions to flaunt in school.
Cut to the new age. Consider taking paint boxes and Chinese toys to the young ones and be prepared to be damned and shamed. And, why not? The things you take home, those little things that once made your day, are now on display at the nearest variety store back home, thanks to China. “Oh, we have this in the store here. Cheap things. I had hoped you would get me an I-pod Touch,” the little fellow mumbles. And then as if to belittle you, he lists the things his maternal uncle from the US had brought in the previous year. His slightly older sister then dumps the dress you thought was ‘oh, so pretty and princess like’ and didn’t even buy at a sale by saying, “I don’t wear these sort of clothes. Moreover, it is not my size. I don’t want it!”
Chocolates, the less said the better. “You either get us Ferrero Rocher and Lindt or nothing,” the boy quips. Older lads prefer laptops and smart phones, young girls are confused about their choices, their parents cast aside (albeit discreetly) smaller stuff along with the love you tucked inside and there are those who remark, “We get better dry fruits here these days, although expensive.”
Very well. Get them if you like, you want to say, but you don’t. You want to say that things are pricey there too and buying expensive presents isn’t even a remote proposition to you, but you don’t, because you can’t talk about dearth, deficit and downturn to folks who now watch cricket on LEDs, drive SUVs and whose children wear uber cool clothes and accessories. To a majority back home, a guy in the Gulf is always in plenty, enjoying manna from heaven, no matter which way the world goes. They won’t believe that you haven’t got a bonus or a raise in three years, that your tax free income doesn’t pack in as much as it used to, that you live in the perpetual fear of the pink slip and that life abroad is no more what is used to be.
It is not about presents anymore, it is about meeting their expectations. It is not about the sentiment that you pack in, but the worth of what is inside. It is not about what you think they might like, but their newfangled preferences. We are fully conscious of it, yet as creatures of habit and slaves to a tradition, we scramble from store to store, looking for bargains and means to fill our vacation bags, eager to please but never quite measuring up, time after time.
Asha Iyer Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Dubai
http://www.khaleejtimes.com/kt-article- ... on=opinion
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