Wednesday, 25 June 2008

A Geek bearing Gifts

As kids, my sister and I, and indeed most of the extended family, would get gifts from various aunts settled in the US as they came down to Kerala in the summers to expose their kids to the land of their forefathers, pick up the latest sari styles and attend sundry marriages/funerals/baptisms/engagements/memorial services. Their huge Samsonite suitcases would be filled with stuff that we in pre-liberalisation India could rarely, if ever get our hands on - chocolates (especially KitKats and Toblerones), clothes, make-up for the women, electronic thingummies and grooming products for the men. The chocolates would be finished off in the first couple of weeks, but the clothes would be made to last for years, being passed from cousin to cousin until too frayed or smelly or out-of-fashion to be handed down anymore (I believe I once referred to the hand-me-downs as being 'secondhand imported', a term which my parents thought incredibly funny and smart and repeated for a long time). While the clothes may never have been considered tres chic, I used to find them fascinating - partly because they all had a certain smell and texture (both due to the generous use of fabric softener by the aunts, as I later realized), but more so because they seemed to come from exotic places like Colombia or Ecuador, places I had only read about in back issues of National Geographic or random GK books ( I am not ashamed to admit it - I read a lot of those books as a kid). I had a pair of shorts from Kenya, and they made me feel like a global citizen.

That, however was in the heydays of the Multi-Fibre Agreement. Since then, India has come a long way, and so has China. Which brings me to the point of this post: I'm down to the last 2 days of my US trip (I leave Thursday evening), and I need to figure out what to get for various people back home. It's pretty confusing because
(a) a lot of the stuff you find in the US would probably have been made in India (including man-hole covers, though I would not want to buy them) and is therefore available back home as well;
(b) even more of the stuff is made in China these days, and I find that somehow less exciting than if they were made in, say, Mexico - I have travelled all this way west, after all;
(c) I am fairly clueless about what it is that people would like, or at least, what they would like that I can afford;
(d) Assuming I wanted to buy clothes, I don't know what people's clothes sizes are, for the most part, and US sizes are a little larger anyway; and
(d) I am scared of being stuck with buyer's remorse (I don't actually suffer from it often, I'm just scared I might, which limits my willingness to splurge).
So far I've managed to buy an assortment of caps - Red Sox, one-size-fits-all - and a few shirts at Filene's Basement (thank you, Han). Assorted chocolates are, of course, on the shopping list. But somehow, I find this rather boring. I almost see myself telling the Customs guys at the Bengaluru International Airport,"I have nothing to declare but my lack of imagination", at which point I suppose they would seize a couple of packets of chocolates and some foreign exchange purely for trying to paraphrase Oscar Wilde and getting it wrong.
So, considering that the last bleg did generate some interesting commentary, I'm putting up another one: if you think you're one of the lucky people I should be getting something, leave me a comment with your preferences. Even if you don't personally want anything, drop a comment if you can think of something interesting to spend money on. Black Converse shoes are ruled out, incidentally.


Incidentally, is anybody checking out my Twitter feed (it's on the right,panel, under the picture, also available at Let me know if that's any fun.


  1. Well, Filenes has clothes you don't get in India, so you've covered that.

    There's a shop called "Life is Good" on Newbury Street (and at Harvard Square -- you went there right?) which has nice tee-shirts.

    You'll find certain kinds of books that you might not find in India -- especially on art.

    (Can't say I understand the point of twitter.)

  2. I remember the gift-giving when we lived in the US -- my cousins used to get quite excited. Then we moved back to India, and my dad was still in the US for a bit, so we experienced the receiving end and well. The smell was definitely distinct.

  3. twitter?? ha ha ha ha

    I used to ask my brother to get me CDs and DVDs, because some albums/movies are hard or impossible to find back home. Such as, for e.g, the original Hitchhikers Guide radio show, Monty Python, some BBC documentaries etc. Oh and a 5 and a half hour Japanese anime movie that wasn't half as long as it sounds.

    Music tended to consist of albums that I know almost with certainty would not get sold back home legally.

    But since you leave in a couple of days this is maybe too late...

  4. Although I grew up in post-lib India (you grew up in pre-? God you're old couz!), it was nevertheless, sufficiently before 'India Shining', and thus I was always overjoyed at receiving phoren maal.

    My personal all-time favourites included; a gameboy, the b&W one, in 2002 (kuttappan sulked upon not receiving one also, and rani auntie made me 'share' possession with him. I'll never forgive him for that.), as always- snickers (still don't understand why they don't just make them here. I mean 30 rupees for a tiny bar? C'mon!) and anything tommy hilfiger or ralph lauren (yes, I was quite the favoured nephew).

    Do you think you could manage a few Dinosaur comics t-shirts? And how about Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane over the Sea album?

    You know you were always my favourite cousin right?

  5. And yes the smell, that sweet smell of all things Americana. I'd always wondered about that, thanks for solving that mystery.

  6. Too late cousin. I'm back in B'lore now. Hopefully I guessed your t-shirt size right, otherwise you will have to content yourself with a cap and stealing you sister's chocolates.
    I'll also let you borrow a few of my new books (listing on right panel), if you promise to return them.