Gifts are tricky. They have to elicit that “ooh, I love it” but at a cost that is wallet-friendly. Here are 20 gifts for you to consider, for others and for yourself. A list of choices, dreams, and suggestions.
Off the beaten track: (top) Cultivate a passion such as photography and follow it with discipline; walk down the aisle of an old cathedral in Goa. Courtesy Dinodia
1. Wear a sexy watch and then disregard time. Might I suggest Titan’s Tandem, Cartier’s Santos 100, or Corum’s Ti-Bridge?
2. Walk, nay skip, down the bridal aisle to the glorious sound of Pachelbel’s Canon in D at any cathedral in Goa. Fragrant white lilies optional, but what a wedding that would be.
3. I am no fan of Maarten Baas, the product designer of the moment. His burnt wood furniture is the colour of pigeon poop. But his “Melting” collection of crystal glasses for the venerable champagne house Dom Ruinart offers the witty juxtaposition of drinking vintage champagne in a thoroughly modern glass.
4. Befriend a group of people that you can travel with once you retire. This is a long-term goal, and trickier than it appears. The people have to be opinionated but not too inflexible; they have to come from the same income bracket so that you are not negotiating rates all the time; they have to have broadly similar interests, whether it be nature, wine or history, but have some expertise so you can learn from them. Most important, they have to have similar body rhythms and tolerances. There is nothing worse for a morning person than to be surrounded by late-night revellers and vice versa. Ditto for a meticulous planner to accompany someone with a high tolerance for chaos and spontaneity. They would drive each other nuts. But travel is pleasurable, and to do so with amenable company is even better.
5. A simpler version of the above is to start or join a group you can meet on a regular basis for dinner, wine and music. A book, film or quiz club is good. Ideally, the group should not have a commercial purpose. Nothing wrong with networking, but friendship is for fun. For the rest of it, you have Facebook, Orkut and LinkedIn.
6. Listen to the Boys Choir of Harlem singing Joy to the World on Christmas Eve. Roaring fire and hot toddy optional.
7. Cultivate a hobby that stirs your soul. Again, it is not easy to pursue a passion. How do you identify it? Ikebana or calligraphy? Cooking or salsa? Photography or yoga? Soccer or karate? First, you have to choose your path; then follow it with discipline to reap the rewards. Have tried and failed. Consistency is key and for some of us, that is very hard.
8. Spend a lazy Sunday afternoon on a hammock by a river, rereading the books that made you laugh and cry as a child. Mine would be My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Vendor of Sweets by R.K. Narayan, and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Your list might be much more erudite and include Tolstoy, Melville, Marquez, Mahfouz and Morrison. Perfectly chilled Reisling or nimbu paani optional.
9. Go to a great sporting event, preferably with someone who loves sports.
10. Scuba-dive and touch a fish. Or chase a butterfly; or pet a dog; or feed a squirrel. You aren’t the only species on this planet, you know.
11. A signature sari from every Indian state would be quite wonderful. Vijai Singh Katiyar’s book, Indian Saris, is a good starting point. Katiyar, a designer and faculty member at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, writes about our textile traditions—Paithanis, Kotas, bandhinis, Venkatagiris and ikats—with passion and expertise. To behold these weaves is to feel proud, and be seduced. My current favourites are translucent Kota doria saris in jewel tones.
12. Read A Book of Luminous Things—an international anthology of poetry by Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz. Simply the best poetry anthology there is. First line: “Epiphany is an unveiling of reality.”
13. Enjoy the tangled web of family. Functional or dysfunctional, nothing else comes even close. Ditto for babies, even and especially if they are not your own. Their belly laugh; their smell; their untouched purity. Go to “Insane Baby Laugh” on YouTube for a sample. Best of all: You can cuddle them and return them to exhausted, sleep-deprived parents at bedtime.
14. Pay attention to the spontaneous unexpected comedy that makes life in India such a riot.
15. Drink good wine. If you cannot be bothered with labels, vintage, terroir and estate, permit me to give you a non-expert’s tip. Fine wine doesn’t stick to your tongue. It isn’t astringent. Rather, if you swirl it around your mouth, you get a well-rounded flavour without the acid aftertaste. If wine causes you to pucker your lips, it ain’t good. Fine wine, in words, is the opposite of Tamilian Mysore Pak which, if good, ought to stick to your tongue.
16. Wear pretty things and go to a party. How about antique vankis (arm-bands) paired with sleeveless swirly dresses?
17. Smell good. Buy Forest Essentials’ bath oils and attars.
18. Spend the weekend in a hotel. The Imperial in Delhi, the Taj in Mumbai, The Park, Kolkata, the “green” ITC Gardenia in Bangalore or the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra. India has great hotel brands. I personally don’t like Aman. Too cold for me.
19. Treat yourself to a gizmo you enjoy: Lumix cameras, Sennheiser headphones, Macbook Air, or, if I may, Bluelounge’s nifty device called The Sanctuary, which unentangles all those charging wires into a neat little box.
20. Do something good. You don’t have to be Snehalaya in Ahmednagar which works with victimized women in the flesh trade and their children. You don’t have to be its founder, Girish Kulkarni, who routinely gets jailed, goes to court and gets beaten by local pimps when he tries to pry minor girls away from the clutches of prostitution. You can simply think of such good samaritans with awe and write them a cheque.
Shoba Narayan wrote a cheque to Snehalaya this Christmas season. Write to her at email@example.com