Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gifting, my Achilles heel

The best gift you can give is a hug: one size fits all and no one ever minds if you return it.

I have a huge problem. No, not my ego. Despite my social skills, or rather the lack of it, I get invited to parties at times. That, though, is the not the problem. My problem is that in those few occasions that I get invited, I am expected to take gifts. And that is a big chink in my otherwise strong armour.

Gifting is an art. And like all art, there are artists and then there are wannabes. Unfortunately, I fall in the latter category in the art of gifting. It is a pity, considering that I do give it a lot of thought, and mostly rational.

I don’t like to buy a gift that is useless or is thrown away after couple of days. So before buying a gift for someone, I think about all the things the person needs and does not have. This works like a charm because you will invariably find that the person has all the things he needs (he would have already bought things he needed). And in those rare circumstances when he does not have it, you will find the thing either not affordable or not available. Either way, you can get away without buying a gift and not feeling guilty about it.

On our last wedding anniversary (I guess it was the seventh or eighth, I forget. Some things are better forgotten.), I gifted my wife a diamond ring. She actually wanted one of those sporty four-wheel-drive vehicles, but I could not find a fake one! When she had asked for something that goes from 0 to 200 in 6 seconds, my initial thought was to buy her a weighing scale. I intend to get her something with diamond next year too (remember, they are a woman’s best friends). I plan to buy her a pack of playing cards, which if I remember right has 13 diamonds in it.

Scott Adams (of the Dilbert fame) said that anything that has enough mass to displace water is a ‘gift’. But from real-life experience, I have found that people like gifts that displace A LOT of water. If you don’t like the person who invited you, you could always buy a very large-sized gift, but still cheap and useless. If you don’t like the person and you are sure you will not meet him again, you may even try gifting an empty box with no name in it. But remember that it may backfire, if you are the only person who did it.

Gifts speak a lot about the personality of the person gifting. Gifting a condom on friend’s marriage shows that the person has a whacky sense of humour and is not a conformist. Gifting a live frog to your boss on the office party shows that the person has great courage and is a risk-taker. A plain gift card shows that the person is unimaginative and risk-averse.

People think that one of the safest gifting techniques is to buy something that can be hung on the wall or displayed in a room. But in reality this approach is full of risk because it assumes that the person has enough space in his wall/rooms for all the gifts that he will receive in the party and that the gift would go with the theme of the person’s wall/house. By the way, I was told that everyone is gifted - but I guess some people never open their package!

I hope you have heard about the gift-chain. People preserve all the useless gifts they receive and gift them to others at the first opportunity, and this goes in circles. I think there is only one gift clock in Kerala, and people keep gifting it to each other

Women have an advantage over men in gifting – they get to buy the gift and also enjoy the process of shopping for it (if you recollect, I suffer from Shopophobia Mallfeorosis). On that note, it is said that women are god’s gifts to men – god must really love gag gifts! And if the invitee is a woman, I was told that the best option is to gift flowers. However I learned that if you want to say it with flowers, a single rose says: "I'm cheap!"

Notwithstanding all my troubles of trying to buy (and end up not buying) the ‘perfect’ gift for others, I try to keep things very simple when it comes to receiving gifts. People who do not bring gifts don’t get invited to my next party. And my best friends are those who give me the most expensive gifts. Somehow, I have always felt that a gift watch shines so much better than the one I bought for myself.

And guess what has been the greatest gift I have ever received? - Readers like you!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To vote or not to vote?

‘One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors – Plato

Ok point taken, let me vote.

‘The next time they give you all that civic bullshit about voting, keep in mind that Hitler was elected in a full, free democratic election - George Carlin

Oh, then what is the point, let me not.

The elections are over in India. We will have a new Prime Minister soon. We, as usual, witnessed an election with all the elements of a drama – conspiracies, lies, scandals, smears, crimes, and topped with economic recession. If you are a neutral in the midst of this, like me, you will have a merry time laughing all the way. If laughter is good for health, I guess frequent elections have been good for me.

India is the largest ‘demo-crazy’ in the world, and it can get ‘real-crazy’ (get the pun?). Therefore, one would assume that people would be keen to exercise their franchise. But the (sad) fact is that they were not. I guess that only 40% of the population is registered voters and only 50% of them actually vote – which is only 20% of the total population. And the winner at the most gets around half of those votes (10% of the whole, or about 1 in 10), who then governs all 100% for the next 5 years. Ha, did anybody say ‘democracy is majority rule?’

People who did not vote feel happy that they are not responsible for the mess, in the name of governance, that goes on in the Parliament. I asked a philosopher friend of mine if he voted, to which his response was ‘There is an election going on all the time; the Lord votes for you and Satan votes against you, and you must cast the deciding vote.’ I did not pursue the matter further. But the political melee is fast approaching the point where people don't want to elect anyone stupid enough to want the Prime Minister’s job.

Elections have made me a cynic too. It is ironic that we are attempting to pick the least incompetent person, when we should be picking the most competent one. Choosing the lesser evil is still choosing evil. Of the 20% population who actually vote, I guess 95% would gladly select ‘none of the above’ if the ballot paper had such an option. And another 4% would have voted ‘good lord, not him’. The rest 1% are the relatives and families of the contestants. (See the amount of statistics you are getting reading this blog. Statistics, as you know, can prove anything but the truth)

When I was a boy I was told that ‘anybody’ could become a President or a Prime Minister, and I am beginning to believe it. It is also funny to think that we are choosing from just three or four people for Prime Minister of the country, while we choose from atleast 50 for Miss India. A friend of mine confided that he never voted for the best candidate, instead he voted for the one who will do the least harm.

Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. You can lead a man to Parliament these days, but you can't make him think. Harry Truman once remarked that ‘My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference.’

99% of the politicians give the other 1% a bad reputation. A good politician is someone who gets money from the rich and votes from the poor, to protect them from each other. Sometimes I feel that politicians really don't believe in the script themselves, but have the incredible skill to make everyone else believe in it. It seems the latest new dance craze is called ‘The Politician’ – its two steps forward, one step backward, and then a sidestep.

I find it very amusing that all the events of the last so many months of election propaganda will come down to a minority of 5-8% of undecided voters making up their mind on the last day. I wonder if there is some way that these voters could be identified early and the whole process be run only for them. Imagine the time, money and effort that could be saved. But then, how will be the media companies pay their salaries? Television channels and newspapers are the biggest beneficiary of elections. Now you realize why they are always keen to bring down a government.

On that note do you know the real beneficiary of the last US elections – Tina Fey. Last heard, Tina Fey has dedicated her latest Emmy awards to Sarah Palin. How can a blog on elections not mention the (in)famous 2000 US elections, in which the person who got the lesser number of votes actually won and when democratic power was taken from the ‘people who voted’ and was given to the ‘people who counted’! There is actually a similarity between US and Indian politics – politicians in both countries go to prison before they enter politics; just that in US they are prisoners of war, while in India they are criminals.

I guess the only thing we learn from a new election is that we learned nothing from the old ones. We continue to vote thinking we can make a difference, when we should actually be buying a lottery. But whatever be the outcome of the election, the fate of the common man is going to be the same. Get taxed more!

No prize for guessing who pays for the government and the elections.