ON THAT NOTE 66

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is

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Our colum­nist Suresh Menon ex­plores a hu­man act that sep­a­rates us from lower an­i­mals – that of re-gift­ing post Christ­mas and New Year fes­tiv­i­ties.

If the day af­ter Christ­mas is Box­ing Day, there is an­other day in the week that is equally im­por­tant but hasn’t been as cel­e­brated. This is the “Re­box­ing Day” when you re­box the ter­ri­ble gifts you re­ceived and ei­ther re­turn them to the store or keep them for the day you need to find a gift for some­body else. This is one of our long-stand­ing tra­di­tions least com­mented upon; po­ets who wax elo­quent about var­i­ous themes do not have a lot to say about this as­pect of our lives. Surely John Keats must have got a gift for Christ­mas that he hated and repacked be­fore gift­ing it to Shel­ley or one of the oth­ers. It seems a very hu­man thing to do, and is one of the acts that sep­a­rate us from lower an­i­mals. Also from inan­i­mate ob­jects, but that’s an­other mat­ter.

When I was a boy, I was once gifted a box of crayons by an aunt I dis­liked so much (both the aunt and the crayons, that is) that my par­ents were forced to buy me some­thing to re­place it. I sus­pect the crayons went to my sis­ter; thus, at an early age I knew that re-gift­ing was a way of life.

Some­one once said that you stop be­liev­ing in Santa Claus when you first get clothes as Christ­mas presents. In my case, it was crayons.

This year I re­ceived a cou­ple of cricket books, one of them a quiz book for chil­dren, and suf­fered a ver­sion of the athe­ist’s dilemma. You, know, where the athe­ist feels pro­foundly grate­ful for some­thing but doesn’t know whom to thank for it. In my case I felt a pro­found dis­gust but didn’t know whom to blame be­cause the gift was from my “se­cret Santa”.

Thumb-rule of gift giv­ing: never gift a cricket book to a cricket writer or one of Freud’s books to a psy­cho­an­a­lyst un­less there is some­thing spe­cial about them – a first edi­tion signed by the au­thor, for ex­am­ple. I can’t re-gift the books be­cause I don’t want the gif­tee to think these are the kind of books I read.

It cuts both ways, of course. Some years ago I gifted a book of mine with the line, “To my friend, with warm re­gards…” A few weeks later, I found it in a se­cond hand book­store. There was only one thing to do. I bought the book, and gifted it to the same friend with: “To my friend, with even warmer re­gards…” Where this will end, I do not know.

There is call for a World Re-gift­ing Day, when a com­mon hu­man ac­tiv­ity is given its proper recog­ni­tion and holds its own among the days set aside for spe­cial ac­tiv­i­ties.

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