Saturday, October 4, 2014


We got a call from my father while were visiting a friend today, asking us to stop by at the Titan showroom on our way back home. My father had received a gift of a watch from my mother's sister, which did not work at all. So when my father went to complain and get a replacement, he was asked to come back and take another watch for free (besides the one they replaced free of cost) worth 1000Rs. And he wanted to gift that to Raghav! But Raghav refused to come with us to the shop and also refused the gift. He promised to call my father when we got home and explain why he did not want that gift.

Sure enough, as soon as we got home he picked up the phone and called my father on his own. I was pleased that he was not only taking a stand, but also following it through by facing the consequences on his own, without asking me to be his voice. This was the conversation that ensued between grandfather and grandson :)
(I happened to be privy to this exchange only because R likes to talk only on speaker mode)

R: "I don't really need that watch thatha."
My father: "But I want to give it to you as a gift."
R: "But I don't need a watch....and even if you give it as a gift to me, I most probably will not use it."
My father: "You may not use it now, but sometime later you may want to use it....if you wear it, you will be able to read the time on your own."
R: "But I can already read the time on our clock."
My father: "Yes, but if you have a watch, you can read the time even when you are outside the house!"
R: "But I don't really need to read the time. I can ask someone if I need to know the time....I don't need to read the time because I know what time it is by looking at the sun....when it starts to get dark, I know what time it would be....and also it is a waste of money."
My father: "Ok. Why don't you anyway choose one and keep it. If you feel you would like to use it later, you can, or else you can give it to A (his cousin) when he comes, as your gift to him."
(and he went on to explain the story about his watch and how he was getting this one free)
R: "But I really don't need a watch...", and he gave the phone to me, giving up on my father. :)

After he hung up, we had a little chat about it.
"Will A know how to read the time on a watch if we give it to him as a gift?", he asked me.
"He may not know, but maybe it will help him get interested in learning how to read the time, just like that clock helped you....remember?," I added.

This is one of the many many conversations we have had with Raghav about gifts and giving. He has possessed quite a remarkable clarity of what he wanted or needed from very early on. He would (and still does) not accept gifts easily from people - simply because for him, if it was not something he needed, it was not a gift. He would also not say thank you or smile at the person giving the gift, unless they had given him something he really liked. He is still not able to see it from the other person's perspective, in spite of all the conversations we have had about this, their feelings etc. For a long time I would get upset with what he did (he would openly say that he didn't want or need it or ask why they gave it to him, or even purse his lips and grimace or smirk). Because I felt he had to care about another person's feelings.... "he has to be kind" was the commentary I was listening to.....that loud old voice inside that needs just the tiniest of cracks to slip through!....and I would try hard to help him see the other person's point of view. But he didn't get that.


“A gift is pure when it is given from the heart to the right person at the right time and at the right place, and when we expect nothing in return.” 


- The Bhagavad Gita

He would say: "But I don't like that gift and I don't need that. I don't ask or expect people to give me anything. Why should I take something that I don't like or will not use? How can I smile or say thank you when I don't really like it?"

And we would have long discussions on how people feel happy to give, how giving is an expression of affection or love, about how people would feel if we rejected their gift, and so on. But no matter how much we talked, the conversation would come back to this: "But I don't really need that gift!"

It was then that I realised that there was some truth in what he was saying. Connecting the dots backwards from there, I realised that his non-acceptance of some gifts was not because he could not appreciate and experience the joy of giving, nor was it because he could not see the other person's point of view. In fact it was I who was caught in the trappings of societal norms and niceties and conditioning. It was I who was not seeing his point of view. Here he was questioning and breaking all norms and customs that didn't make any sense to him and perhaps our times, and I was just not listening to his loud, clear voice. I was trying to help him understand the other person's feelings, without beginning to understand him.

A few years ago, where we lived earlier, I remember how he had asked me to buy something new for the security lady's daughters for Diwali. He had listened to me speaking about them - how they probably did not have enough money to buy anything for Diwali as his mother was the only one working, how their father was not living with them etc.. And he immediately wanted us to get something for the two girls. He was very particular that it should be something new, not used or old. So we found out from that lady what kind of things they liked and then got them that for Diwali - it was a craft kit where they could make their own jewellery with beads etc. They were so happy to receive a gift like that!

Similarly, we would have long discussions about giving away his old toys to orphanages. He would insist that we buy only new ones for the kids. "They must have new ones. I would not like to play with old, used toys," he told me. And we would rush off into discussions about consumerism, recycling, reusing, saving the environment and so on. Yes, he knew a lot about all those issues. But he would still say "No, but I want to give them new toys."

It was then that I realised that I was perhaps pushing him to do something he was not ready to do as yet. And why should he be ready now? Why do I want to put the world's problems on his small shoulders at such a young age and rob him and the other kids of their happy childhood? He has a whole lifetime to figure that out himself and make his own choice. Why should I dialogue with him on all this when his happiness of giving someone something was simple and unadulterated? Why should I make him get into a guilt trip of being an 'irresponsible', 'insensitive' child consumer who does not know the value of reusing and recycling? Won't that emerge on its own from within when he has had his fill? And when it comes from within, won't it be just that more beautiful? Why this race to make my kid into the adult that I could not be or a part of the world that I like to or want to see? And so I decided to wait for that day.

That day came much later when we had to move house. He was ready to give away the stuff he no longer needed. He wanted to have a jumble sale and what did not get sold, he gave away to those who were okay to take them. And he gave happily. It came on its own, just like it had before. I was glad that I had waited for that day. I was happy that I did not 'mould' him into the person I wanted him to be. I was relieved that I had seen him for who he was. That had made all the difference.

Of late, he is also a little more accepting of gifts. But not totally. He now understands a little more that he can always choose to give what he doesn't like to someone else who might just love it. But not always. It is hard to predict with Raghav. He has a knack of bringing me face to face with my fears every now and then. So when I am not centred and have the slightest self-doubt, he will do or say something to bring that up to the surface. At least that is the way I see it. So now, we tell people, including family, what he would like as a gift, and otherwise just let them know that it is quite okay if they don't get him anything. He himself tells his grandparents - "You don't have to get me anything for my birthday. It's okay. Appa and amma will get me what I want." And they too are beginning to understand :)

True giving is not easy. It requires us to be in touch with ourselves and the other. Raghav helped me see that in a new way. He redefined 'giving' and 'gift' for me. And that has been his biggest and best gift to me!

Perhaps kids like him are here to make us revisit and rethink these old, obsolete, narrow definitions of 'giving', 'gift' and many other things. Perhaps they are the ones who are clearing their own paths for their tomorrows. Perhaps all we need to do is to listen to the songs of their souls and help them clear their paths as they dance into a joyous tomorrow. Perhaps that is the best gift that we will ever give them.

So how do you define a gift and giving? Have you stopped to think about this before you give someone something?

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