A Nappa Dori bag
A Nappa Dori bag

Take risks, make your gifts special

The best gifts introduce the receiver to things that they didn't know they wanted

I imagine that the tradition of gift-giving began when a Homo erectus man approached a female and handed her a hammered piece of rock with a shy guttural grunt. It wasn’t an object she needed or wanted. It was an object that expressed his heart’s desire better than words. And thus, the first gift was born.

How far we have come in the gifting universe. Gifts are no longer objects of affection. Instead they are demands or at best, aggressive suggestions about what a person needs and wants. The proliferation of wedding gift registry in which people list out what they want right down to the last fork and bathroom rug makes the notion of “it’s the thought that counts" seem quaint and outdated. After all, why do you have to think when the receivers have done all the thinking for you? Corporate gifts would seem an oxymoron but aren’t.

A sari by Anavila
A sari by Anavila

American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, ever the Utopian, said: “We must convey to someone a gift that properly belonged to him in character and was easily associated with him in thought." With what do you associate your loved ones when you think about them? Is it the latest Kilian Hennessy perfume and not just because the creator looks sexy? Or a Fornasetti plate because Lina Cavalieri vaguely reminds you of Nutan or Madhubala? Is it the Bose speaker system that follows the adage that Hindustani classical music should make the windows rumble? Or the Dior skirt from Raf Simons’ 2013 collection because you like his floral Asian touches on Dior’s traditionally superb cuts? Then again, these are safe choices. If your wallet has weight, these are no-brainers because I cannot think of a person who will not like a Tom Ford suit or—for the sake of alliteration—a Thomas Pink shirt.

The best gifts take risks and introduce the receiver to things that they didn’t know they wanted—be it a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi to an impressionable young girl; or artist Vibha Galhotra’s ghungroo beehives for a dance studio; or the latest analogue watch from Titan, aptly named Edge, to someone who only sports Patek Philippe; or any of Anavila’s special capsule saris from Bungalow 8—take a look at their wonderfully draped models on Facebook—to a woman who doesn’t wear saris and if she does, only the Hermès ones. Sure, there will be the odd failure. I once gave my mother a Satya Paul sari in grey. After a wedding, she wanted to take a nap. “Give me that one in that dirty grey," she asked. It had become her nightie. Any Kanjeevaram connoisseur will view laser-cut saris as spurious and of low quality. Ditto with diamonds. If you cannot afford Graff, consider Hanut Singh or Alice Cicolini.

Raf Simon’s off-white twill bustier and skirt with a printed Warhol Female Head 1958 for Dior
Raf Simon’s off-white twill bustier and skirt with a printed Warhol Female Head 1958 for Dior

There is one thing that I have been unable to find. I love botanical illustrations and was looking for Indian ones. The only artist I could come across who was even close to what I am looking for is Hemlata Pradhan , who does lovely limited edition prints of India’s wild orchids. Now, if I could only find such illustrations of the peepal leaf, or the lotus stem, that would be something wonderful.

Shoba Narayan surfs Phantom Hands (Phantomhands.in) for an antique Indian clothes rack similar to the one in her grandfather’s house.

Also Read | Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

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