Kumar, in his light purple uniform with blue-lined sleeves and collar, was more animated than I’d ever seen him. Words tumbled out of his mouth, making little sense to me, until he rolled up a trolley from the corridor revealing a tall, circular wooden curio stand, its three shelves encircled by a double helix of spiralling wrought iron leaves.
There it stood with a certain grace and dignity. I, for one, had never seen the like of it in the Home Centre, Homes R Us, Pan Emirates and Ikea stores that I usually frequent.
As I now made out from Kumar’s jumble of Hindi: a family was moving out and had thrown the stand out on its metaphorical ear, and the poor lately-orphaned piece was headed for the “khachra (trash)”.
“Madam, acchaa piece hai. Khachra me ja raha hai. Aap rakh lijiye,” he told me. (Madam, it’s a good piece, please keep it.) The 47-year-old Sri Lankan was part of our building’s cleaning team, and I had known him for close to 3 years by now.
As Kumar egged me on, I was very aware of my “bitter” half and his dire warnings to not clutter our home! And like everyone else in this city, I am forever decluttering. So, how could I take this piece in, however spectacular?
My initial surprise having receded by now, I felt rather touched that Kumar had thought of me and was offering me this rather grandiose “gift”. So keen and earnest was he in my keeping it. And having heaved it across my doorstep he wouldn’t hear of my hesitant offer of a small tip for his kindness.
As gifts go, this is probably the biggest I have ever received in terms of size. And it was a happy moment when my husband, instead of objecting, actually suggested that we go to Ace and get some wood and brass polish to smarten the piece up.
No more gifts
Many many years ago, gifts used to be exchanged come birthday, anniversary or Christmas until everyone in my extended family got sick and tired of what was becoming more a ritual than a pleasure. With 10 of us in our “gang”, it was getting to be just a little too much to take. We all mutually decided not to buy or accept any more gifts unless the occasion truly demanded it. Peace reigns to this day.
It’s all well and true that it’s not the gift, but the thought, that counts. And to that end, we justify many a hurried purchase. Most times though, thought goes walkabout, and a gift is presented to appease a sense of obligation! “You shouldn’t have,” says the receiver. “My pleasure,” you chime in dutifully.
So now, like so many good ol’ things, is the art of the well-picked-out gift dying out?
It was rather fortuitous that I came across Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks at this time, where he talks about confronting all the busyness of our lives with the “finitude” of our existence neatly boxed up in 4,000 weeks, give or take a few. He mentions how our culture of convenience, in freeing up our time, is actually eroding us of so many experiences that consume time, but afford so much pleasure.
Burkeman illustrates by pointing out that the convenience of an e-Card can never beat the thoughtfulness and effort that goes into picking out a physical birthday card, writing in it by hand and posting it.
A card, a gift, even a hand-me-down — that makes both the giver and the receiver light up in mutual pleasure — is worth the effort.
It has the makings of a bond.
So now every time I look at the stand Kumar brought to my doorstep, it sparks the kind of joy Mary Kondo famously made us all aware of. And appreciation for his kindness and thoughtfulness is not far behind.
Maria Elizabeth Kallukaren is a freelance journalist based in Dubai