They formed a formidable fortress around me the day after my wedding; an impenetrable and inescapable wall of silk saris, diamonds and withering jasmine. The women of the family — aunts, sisters, cousins and friends had cornered me with an expectant look on their faces. I had been forewarned of this: the not so subtle interrogation about the night before by those who had suffered a similar fate. Apparently, these mouths that fluently and piously intoned the Lalitha Sahasranamam were also capable of spouting SJ Suryah style dialogues. I cringed, waiting for the first missile.
“When are you opening your gifts?”
Eh? Gifts? Clearly, materialistic pleasures had gained the hierarchical upper hand that day, and so, without further ado we all sat down to an afternoon of present opening with all the restraint of a post birthday five year old high on a sugar rush.
With the wedding season and summer heat looming large, the invitations have been piling up at home and there’s nothing I like more than perusing and passing judgement on these increasingly tome like missives (we received one the other day with pops up and seven inserts. The only thing missing was a musical greeting). I’m particularly interested in those lines inserted that deal with the receiving of gifts, presentations and good old fashioned cash. These insertions vary from the direct and slightly rude ‘No gifts and presents’ to the more polite ‘Please gift the couple with your blessings alone’ to the somewhat ambiguous ‘Grace the occasion with your presence only’. Why do people do this? And, more importantly, are we expected to respect the wishes of our hosts and turn up empty handed, hearts full of love and blessings or should we arrive armed with the mandatory vanilla envelope?
Those who decide to follow a hosts instructions and turn up sans gift often run embarrassing risks. There’s nothing worse than showing up empty handed at a wedding reception and finding a long line of guests ready to shower the couple with their blessings and a deluxe casserole set. Except perhaps finding out that the bride has lost ten pounds since you last saw her, a time frame during which you’ve had triplets and discovered the benefits of eating brownies for breakfast.
I believe gifts serve a purpose. They help bridge the awkward transition from saying ‘Congratulations’ and complimenting the bride’s svelte appearance through gritted teeth to being asked to pose for a photograph. Always wait to be asked. Without something tackily wrapped in shiny reflective paper to hand over, one can end up looking like a cheapskate who just wants their photo taken before running off to eat. Secondly, gifts also help you stand out in an ocean of guests. For example, ten rupees in the envelope the wedding invite came in tags one as a miser. Or recently divorced from Heather Mills McCartney.
I’ve often wondered why some families have a ‘no gifts’ policy. It can’t be that they eschew materialism and are all for a more ascetic approach to life, other wise they’d encourage their children to elope and have register marriages instead of the multi crore shenanigans weddings are today. I think it’s all an attempt to sidestep vicious bad gift karma. Think about it, we’re all guilty of having palmed off coconut Ganpathis and novelty singing trout to newly weds. And in order for the universe to remain in a state of equilibrium its only fair that this behaviour comes back to bite us in our backsides in the form of alarm clocks cleverly disguised as footballs or — what an idea — vases in the form of flowers!
Of course, every now and then there’s a wedding invitation that takes your breath away, and it’s not just because of their innovative use of glitter and Lord Ganpathi. A few years ago, a friends friend sent out invitations to her nuptials with a little card inserted that said (and I summarize) ‘As we are young and irresponsible, please don’t gift us things for our new home. We’re likely to break, lose or never use them. Instead, money (preferably cash) will help us start our lives on happy, solvent note.’ While some gasped and shook their heads in despair before putting back the Mickey Mouse photo frame they had hoped to palm off, I couldn’t help but marvel at the couple’s cheek.
I’m all for gifts — good, bad and tacky. They provide hours of fun to those opening them, help build up an ample arsenal of gifts to throw at other hapless couples and most important of all, they keep at bay your Aunt’s nosey questions about how many moles your other half has. And I don’t mean of the rodent kind.
(This piece appeared in today's edition of the NewIndPress Sunday magazine)