Why Does That Gift You Gave Me Look Like That Which I Gave Them? (Short Story)

Posted: December 23, 2015

Gifting during festival times can often go around in a loop and give rise to hilarious situations! A short story by Anumita Bhattacharya Goel.

Prologue:

One person’s trash is indeed another person’s treasure at least transiently till it becomes trash for him too!




The benefits of recycling, reusing and its impact on our environment are not unknown. We must have heard it umpteen times that the natural resources on our planet earth are limited, so we must make the most to conserve, recycle and reuse WHENEVER possible. Before you start thinking that I am using this platform to reinforce my environment conservation beliefs, let me assure you that it can certainly wait for another day. This read will be a light and humorous one with some personal observations and experiences that I have encountered with reusing gifts (well several times.) It amuses me as to how overpowering consumerism and commercialisation that has crept in our day-to-day living and taken over the essence of any festival. All characters from my lighthearted personal memoir are REAL with minor tweaks to elevate the entertainment quotient. It is NOT intended at hurting any religious beliefs, customs, rituals or community but STRONGLY suggests (does not advocate) thinking beyond the conventional obligations and norms that we often follow blindly. Somewhere along the note, you may also find a subtle message that will help us reflect.

I have lived a significant part of my life in Delhi and have to admit that recycling and reusing is at its best in the city especially during the festive season.The customary ritual of exchanging gifts never fail to catch my attention and at times tickle the funny bones too. More often than not, it’s about the obligation than the goodwill gesture; it’s the “have to” that overpowers the “want to”. Oh and there’s also the perennial dilemma of “log kya kahenge?” or “What will people think or say?”

I used to live with my parents at the Asian Games Village, near Siri Fort Auditorium popularly known as the “Khel Gaon Marg.” In those days, our neighbourhood had a “Laal Batti” culture with several top officials of PSUs, bureaucrats, public servants and union ministers residing in that area. During festivals, the area buzzed with people in luxurious cars zooming by, carrying big gift boxes wrapped in glittery papers.

A few days before any festival, my father used to give strict instructions to the security guards, not to accept any parcel, sweet boxes or courier from anyone known or otherwise. The only permissible item allowed at home was the greeting card that too after frisking the envelope. Our middle class upbringing somehow couldn’t fathom the gifting ritual, which often went overboard with people carrying gold coins and other such expensive gift items. To avoid any confusion and being trapped into the obligatory rituals, my family had put a blanket “NO” to any gift items; only wishes and hugs were welcome.

Oops, I have got carried away sharing my personal experiences. This story is not about my family and me. This story is about the reuse of gifts which is at its peak especially during the festive season and the fun around it all. The lead characters of this story are Mr.Sharma, Mr.Gupta, Mr.Chaudhury, Mr.Chaddha, Charan Singh, Jyoti and Meenu.

I am certain, you will be able to relate to most of these characters in some way or the other.

So here goes…

Mr.Sharma, a middle-aged man stays with his family of three in a DDA flat at Lajpat Nagar. He is a God fearing man guided by “grahas” and planetary positions more than logic. He wears big, colourful stones on almost all his fingers for the many planetary dysfunctions that seem to be haunting his life. Apart from performing several rituals, he also believes in giving gifts especially during the festive season. His humble job as a head clerk in the nearby government undertaking office doesn’t leave any room for extravagance. He balances his expenses by cutting corners as much as possible; festivals always seem to burn a hole in his pocket though and this time is no exception. He went to the nearby local wholesale market to buy sweet boxes at a discounted rate so that he can distribute among his extended family and friends.

A shimmering teacup and saucer set also caught his eye, however he wasn’t sure if he should spend that kind of money on gifting. The already discounted tea cup and saucer set also had a free soap case with it, an offer which Mr.Sharma gave into. He decided to gift the fancy tea cup set to Mr.Gupta and keep the soap case for his house. Mr.Sharma got the gift wrapped with a glossy blue sheet at the store to make it look a lot more appealing than it originally was. The following day, he decided to reach Green Park riding his withered scooter to handover the gift along with a handwritten note for Mr.Gupta.

Mr.Gupta, an influential businessperson, lives in one of the sprawling bungalows of a posh South Delhi locality. He shares his frame with Page 3 socialites and highflying executives on a regular basis. He also happens to be a distant relative of Mr.Sharma and they are in touch with each other merely for family obligation to say the least. In the last 35 years that they have known each other, they haven’t had anything to talk about apart from Bittu and Sonu (their brash teenage kids who are better versed with colloquial hindi abuses than the school syllabus.) Mr.Gupta was about to leave for his factory to distribute sweets and a festival bonus among his loyal workers. As soon as Mr.Sharma parked his scooter outside, the sleep-deprived guard got alerted and opened the gate. Mr Gupta was already standing on his porch about to approach his luxurious sedan. He saw Mr. Sharma and paused mid way with a smile as fake as his lifestyle.

Mr.Gupta called out for his assistant “RamLal woh dabba le ana Sharmaji ke liye.” RamLal, the faithful assistant came running in his two-piece safari suit and handed over a glittery silver tray of dry fruits. While exchanging a smile, a part of his kathha-clad paan almost peeped out of his mouth. Barely two minutes of pleasantries and smiles, they ran out of conversation; both Mr.Sharma and Mr.Gupta rushed to their respective destinations to carry out the festive chores.

It is worth mentioning, that the silver tray of dry fruits that Mr.Gupta gifted Mr.Sharma was originally gifted to him by Mr.Chaudhury. Mr.Gupta and Mr.Chaudhury are childhood friends. Both have grown up in the same colony and despite their busy lives, they have managed to stay in touch. Mr.Gupta had sent a box of high quality desi ghee loaded box of ladoos to the Mr.Chaudhurys. Their wives are kitty party friends and have a common social circle. On the face of it, they are supposed to be good friends who dine, wine and shop together. They even go to the same upmarket spa and salon and rub shoulders (almost literally) with the elites.

Mr.Chaudhury who is a part of the senior management of a multinational company, prefers staying away from high calorie food as a part of his strict health regime. Inspite of his hectic and long hours at work, he manages to get up at 5 in the foggy mornings and jogs to stay fit. He also plays golf and is an active member of an elite gym at his posh neighbourhood.

Mr.Chaudhury decides to recycle the box of ladoos and give it to his faithful driver Charan Singh. Charan Singh hails from a small village in West Punjab and is serving the Chaudhurys’ for the last two decades. Apart from a fat festival bonus, he is overwhelmed by the pure desi ghee laddoos. He and his family enjoyed a happy Sunday meal of sarso da saag and makki di roti cooked by his wife Rajinder, followed by desi ghee laddoos. Life has not smelt this good in the Singh household for a long long time. Rajinder saved some desi ghee ladoos for her friend and neighbor Jyoti, who also works as a houshelp with the Chaddhas.

Mrs.Chaddha is concerned about Mr.Chaddha’s skyrocketing cholesterol levels and expanded waistline. He has a well-rounded potbelly, which according to him is a matter of pride among happy and well-fed Punjabi men. The medical reports say otherwise; the doctors have asked Mr.Chadhha to stay away from fried food and sweets. Mrs.Chaddha has given strict instruction to Jyoti not to make any fried food and cook using less oil. She has also restricted buying sweets for home and hence decided to pay Jyoti her festival bonus along with an expensive salwar suit. The sweet savouries box and sweet box was missing from Jyoti’s receivables as the festival bonus from the Chaddha household this year, which for obvious reasons had left her disappointed. Once Rajinder, Jyoti’s neighbour gifted her a few pure ghee laddoos, she was overwhelmed with the unexpected box of joy.

Mr.Chaddha fondly known as Chaddaji works as a Senior Manager with a government undertaking Bank, he manages the loan disbursement team for auto and home loans. Mr.Sharma had applied for a four-wheeler loan with Mr.Chaddha’s bank, the application was approved and signed by Mr.Chaddha. As a goodwill gesture, Mr.Sharma planned to gift the silver tray of dry fruits to Mr.Chaddha. The silver rates are very steep and with a humble head Clerk job, it was difficult for Mr.Sharma to buy silver for gifting purposes. As much as his wife Sunita wanted to keep the tray at home, she had to eventually let go of the silver tray on Mr.Sharma’s insistence. He made her realize the role of Mr.Chaddha in getting his loan papers approved. Sunita always wanted to go for a drive with Sharmaji on his car like most of her friends; who don’t consider two-wheeler as a good standing in the society.

Mr.Sharma along with his wife Sunita went to personally handover the silver tray loaded with high quality dry fruits. The loud living room décor of the Chaddhas was overwhelming for the middle class Sharmas. Mrs Chaddha switched on the AC, which blew cold air, so uncalled for atleast during this time of the year when Dehlites were getting ready to take out their woolens. Mrs.Chaddha, clad in a chiffon salwar suit, wearing a bright red lipstick on her tired face served tea and some namkeen . With a pale smile, she handed over a box wrapped with a blue gift-wrapping paper,which looked familiar to Mr.Sharma. Even before Mr.Sharma could say anything, with a hesitant voice, Mrs.Chaddha looked at Mr.Chaddha and said “aarey is main ek chota sa gift hai joh maine Khan Market wali shop se lee hai, who kya naam hai jee us imported shop ki?.” Mr.Chaddha maintained a stoical silence without having any clue of what was said.

Visibly embarrassed, Mr.Sharma said “Aarey Bhabhiji iski kya zaroorat thee?” After a few minutes of made up conversations and some fake smiles, the Sharmas bid the Chaddhas goodbye.

Before we move on, it’s important to reveal that the teapot set, which Mrs.Chaddha was flaunting to have bought from the upmarket Khan Market was infact gifted by Mr.Gupta. The story doesn’t end here; it was originally gifted to Mr.Gupta by the one and only Mr.Sharma from the local supermarket.

Mr.Gupta had actually approached Mr.Chaddha’s bank for a top-up loan to expand his business. The amount was way above Mr.Chaddha’s permissible sanction limit hence he made several rounds to approach his Regional Manager and finally get Mr.Gupta’s business loan sanctioned. Now based on his intervention, Mr.Chaddha qualifies to a special Diwali gift from Mr.Gupta. He decides to reuse the gift given by Mr.Sharma and make Mr.Chaddha happy.

Ronny, the pampered son of the Chaddhas studies in a reputed International School where Mrs.Renu Chaudhury, wife of Mr.Chaudhury works as a Vice Principal.The Chaddhas wanted to gift Mrs.Chaudhury for her consideration in promoting Ronny to class 8 with substandard scores. They felt it was time to repay her favour and gift her the silver tray with the dry fruits, which Mr.Sharma had gifted them just an hour back.

Just to refresh your memory, Mr.Chaudhury was the one who had originally gifted the silver tray of dry fruits to his childhood buddy Mr.Gupta and Mr.Gupta in tern had gifted the same to Mr.Sharma which eventually landed up with Mr.Chaddha and finally to Mr.Chaudhury. This is why we say Life comes to a full circle!

And before I forget, Mr and Mrs Sharma on their way back from the Chaddhas met with a minor accident, their scooter skid along the main road. Luckily they escaped with minor bruises and cuts but the tea-cup set (which was originally bought by him and now gifted to him by Mrs  Chaddha) broke into pieces. The blue glossy wrapper was cut open with the broken glasses peeping out of it helplessly.

So what did the Chaudhurys do with their gift coming back to them? Well, Mrs.Chaudhury is also known for her generosity, she gave away the dry fruits along with the silver plated (yes it was not original silver!) tray to Meenu, who collects garbage from her door and the entire neighbourhood. Mrs Chaudhury also handed over some cash to her, Meenu was overjoyed with some extra inflow of cash, which will ease the financial hardship that she is battling with. Meenu has three kids all under the age of 6; they have refuged under the big pipes below the flyover where metro construction is underway. Once the construction work is over, she is not sure how her life will be with her three children, alcoholic husband, an argumentative high pitched mother in law, one faithful black stray dog Kalu. As soon Meenu got the gift home, her husband Fakir went to a local liquor guy and gave the tray with dry fruits in exchange of four bottles of Tharra (local liquor/alcohol).

On that night of Diwali, when the entire city was awash with the festivities: lights, clothes, decorations, unwanted gifts, unhealthy food, teen patti (card games) and an overflow of alcohol from the riches to the rags.

For one night the entire society was uniform without any disparity, nobody did anything significantly different. While the elites of the society like the Guptas and the Chaudhurys got together in their sprawling bungalow drinking high quality single malt whiskey, the downtrodden Charan Singh, Jyoti’s husband Kishwarlal and Meenu’s husband Fakir had bottles of Tharra and cracked crude jokes on the riches. They all seem to be echoing “Bura na mano thyohaar hain…”

Image source: gift box by Shutterstock.

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