After a month's respite, with the inauspicious Pous being over, the Bengali wedding season has come back with a big vengeance, so to say. Apart from decking up in gorgeous finery, what really scares me is the idea of selecting the right gift to carry each time I am invited to a marriage reception. Nowadays the brides hardly wear saris, and so the staple fashion accessory is passé. Wracking my brains to give a gift that looks expensive and also goes with the particular person's taste is more difficult than solving complicated mathematical problems. When we were young, I remember an aunt gifting my mother a hard-bound copy of Tagore's Sanchayita, not because my mother recited the poet's poems quite well but because she had received seven copies of the same as wedding gifts. Even the cheap Bengali novels of the Mills and Boon variety that were found in abundance in shops selling wedding presents earlier are no longer in fashion. In recent times I haven't seen anyone walk into a wedding with a copy of Chicken Soup For Your Soul, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, or The Bhagwad Gita. Till last year, I used to gift bed sheet sets as wedding presents until I found my newly-married nephew do up his rented apartment with bed sheets cut out into window curtains. They had received thirty-two bed sheets, he shyly confided and they did not have the cash to buy drapery.
I often think why can't some of the invitees just ask us not to come with any gifts? Is the blessing asked for in the card a mere sham? It would really help the average middle-class householder, who often has to juggle his financial priorities, to attend on an average five weddings a month. It would also save the receivers the trouble of recycling some of the useless stuff that flooded their houses. Whenever my grey cells fail to think out a suitable present and I think of giving cash in an envelope, I am told that it looked too “bania –like” and was not fit for cultured Bengalis that we are. My sister who lives in Indonesia told me that in wedding receptions there, they have huge glass boxes at the entrance where people just go on dropping cash in cute little red envelopes. But does not that sound like dropping the pranami in the hundis in our temples or donation boxes put up for charity and small change at many museums?
When I was musing aloud, my son, who now lives in Uncle Sam's land of plenty, gave me a quick suggestion. “What is the problem? Why don't you look up the marriage registry account at the gift shops?” Now, what was that? Well, I was explained that the to-be-married couples opened a special account at one or two departmental stores and gave them a list of all the things they needed to set up a household. You just checked the account and paid for whatever item that suited your pocket. So, the earlier you went, the greater chance you had of booking the cheaper items. But what happens when you do not have anything left within your budget? Well you can gift one wine glass in a set of four, and wait till the three others would be sponsored by somebody. Though I forgot to ask what would happen if the set was left lame, it made sense. Although Napoleon had called England a nation of shopkeepers, the American newly-wed couple would not have to do with a dozen wall clocks, two dozen bed sheets, five tea-sets, ten thermos flasks, and so on. Since mall culture has already crept into our city, I am just waiting for the wedding card to announce that the Kolkata couple (or maybe their parents) along with the blessings of Prajapati, has opened a gift registry account at Shoppers Stop or Westside or Pantaloons. Even if we do not always agree with their political decisions, we can follow the Americans in this case, can't we?
Somdatta Mandal is Professor and Head, Department of English and Other Modern European Languages, Visva-Bharati.