It was the spring on 1979. There was a new grandchild in the house, I was at my maternal home post delivery, and it so happened that my mother would be completing 60 years a month later. She never liked a formal fuss, did not enjoy grand expenditures and show, my parents dietary habits ruled out wild food indulgences, and since I was their only child resident in the country, I racked my brain incessantly on what was the best gift I could give.
Once the baby and feeding routines had settled down predictably, and the general fuss about massages and stuff for the new mother had subsided, I would occasionally manage to go out for an hour or a bit more with friends and relatives, and my folks were only too thrilled to be with their grandson during that time.
That's when the craziness began....
Intense discussions with friends, consulting with close relatives, and I concluded that a surprise party and something new for the house would be the best gift. Those were days when having a color TV was a luxury, there were no such things as home theatres; you either stayed home or went to the theatre to see a play. My father thought the car was a white elephant guzzling gas, commercials were the worst things to have happened to TV, watches were to be eternally preserved from the time you got them till you were 80 or something, and my mother had some really ancient sarees that stayed as good as new. It wasn't so much about personal gifts. There was a lot of space in the house, and we thought a new carpet would be ideal (although they would immediately say the old one was perfect , why a new one etc and so on......:-).
Several secret trips with a cousin, friends, even some of my mother's friends. Whispered phone calls, the minute my parents stepped out of the house for something. Lists of various types , and visits to invite some of her special old friends for a surprise party ensued. All done surreptitiously. The carpet was shopped for, loaded on top of the Fiat car carrier, and we drove straight to my Mom's friend's house, hoping no one had seen us zipping by with the overhead load . A pale gold large carpet, ideal for use when having ladies haldikumkums and stuff. The folks in that house were aghast to see me walking in supporting one edge of the carpet; they probably thought I should be barely bending my back, after a Cesarean delivery, and rushed to help out. Everyone was sworn to secrecy, the son of the house was asked to shove it under the bed (lest my Mom visited them ) . The menu was planned, everyone offered to bring a dish, various folks were bidden to appear that day, come what may, at the appointed time. I would cook the meal and so we had one of my mother's best friends come to spend the day, so both could simply attend to my son and enjoy ! My husband would come at the last moment, pick up the carpet and bring it home with the help of our neighbor's son. It was not possible for a single person to move stuff around.
The day dawned, I wished my Mom, did pranams, and told her that folks would be coming . Then she complicated things by saying she knew people would bear gifts and I should actually go out and get return gifts for everyone .
All this gifting stuff was getting complicated. She didn't know about the carpet yet. She thought some travel bags would be great to give everyone. So I hot footed it to the city main shopping area, and an hour or more later drove back with 25 blue small square carryon suitcases , studded all around me and above me in the small Fiat. They used to be known as Air India bags then, and greatly admired (because some said you got them free if you flew AI.)
While my Mom was delighted to see so many of her old friends landing up, she was a bit aghast to see her son-in-law lugging a huge rolled carpet 2 floors up with the aid of the neighbors son. We did Aarti, ladies did haldikumkum, everyone got jasmine gajras, flowers, sprinklings of rosewater. The carpet was inaugurated. One of her closest friends did an amazing mimicry program and songs. The ladies oohed and aahed over the grandson, I was run off my feet going up and down with the food and mattresess and cushions and stuff, and the ladies suitably expressed their displeasure at these capers of a woman one month after her delivery. I wasn't about to listen to anyone, and had been planning this thing for so long ! Yes it was a lot to do, but then so many chipped in with their own kind of help. The pot luck food dishes were shared by all.
Looking back, I often wonder how it would have been if I could order stuff to be delivered. I mean I could have shopped on line, chosen, had the stuff either delivered to the neighbors, or specified the delivery date . (I know. I wouldn't have trusted the latter). No one would have looked on suspiciously at the hitherto whispered phone calls, the sudden silences, and the quick one hour trips, driving with friends, where, supposedly nothing exciting happened.
But orderly as it would have been in an online world (which didn't really exist then), there would have not been the secrecy, the rushing around, the pretending, the hiding, and the general craziness that was the hallmark of this event.
It isn't so much what you gift. It is all about how you gift.
And it's all about your own special gift later, where you got a sore back with all that running around, you lay down , and the birthday woman sat down by your side, , reminisced about the evening, while slowly rubbing and massaging your back .....
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