What's your gifting type?
In separation, gifts are thrilling when they are unexpected, and become a way of touching each other, tokens of remembrance, or being memorised, when we are all at risk of drifting away into forgetting
I have been a lucky bug this week, because I got three gifts. One, herbs from the hills, in deliciously labelled bottles. Two, a book my friend thought would comfort me. The third, a tin decorated with a blowsy rose, and my name in silver, holding beaded hoops, giving me a teenage I didn't have.
Our time of isolation is also a time of separation, from life's unexpected gifts—word play, random shared jokes, surprise visits and impulse outings, catharsis springing from meandering conversations. In separation, gifts are thrilling when they are unexpected, and become a way of touching each other, tokens of remembrance, or being memorised, when we are all at risk of drifting away into forgetting.
It is easy to buy gifts for some people. I am one of them, or as my friend N, elegantly said, "You're cheap." Yaniki (she hastened to assure) easily and equally pleased by roadside trinkets or designer saris. I do believe my quickness to delight is one reason people like giving me gifts. The giving and taking of pleasure, gives us confidence in our capacity to love and be loved. Some people are very hard to buy gifts for. One friend criticises all gifts instantly—"what is this!". She likes gifts to be expensive, above all. Perhaps she wanted to be a queen, or just a favourite. Perhaps, disappointed there by life, gifts seemed to thunder with a judgement of her value. Some people lay claim on you by demanding gifts (I enjoy the demand). My habitually mercurial friend R, does this, expresses joy on receiving and later, propelled by unknown forces, mystifyingly demands you take your present back. Annoyed, I retort, "give it away then". A war between one who constantly wants proof of love, with one who hates to be asked for proof. You often hear women complain how difficult it is to buy gifts for men. "That's because men buy themselves the presents they want," said N, "even cars!". It seems true that many men, schooled to value and demonstrate status, make gifts hard if you don't have a lot of money.
Others fetishise masculine abnegation. So sparing are they in expressing enjoyment, so stingy about hugs and smiles, they leach you of the confidence that you can make them happy. (Don't scold me if this resonates with various aspects of your relationships with men).
There are people who give presents often. Some do so casually, iridiscent bubbles of attentiveness, requiring no back-presents. Others are more performative. For instance, my father disliked that one of his close friends brought extravagant gifts on each visit. "It's like just meeting is never enough of a gift." This insight sometimes crossed my mind when I had a friend who gave me very grand presents.
Sometimes I would feel it controlled our interactions, a force-field to deflect the deeper, more uncertain exchanges of love. I know someone who won't even try to choose a gift, insisting you decide. Some hate vulnerability and prefer guarantees.
Gifts are also called tokens, a word I associate with Mother Dairy booths, and like those tokens they do stand in for much else. Our giving and receiving, are also an exchange of our hurts and hopes of love, our pasts and, well, our presents.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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