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Sunday, December 23, 2007

How to make a happy person happier

Yes! I would like to write a self help book with that title but I doubt it will sell many copies because no one is interested in making the happy, happier!

Yet, this is a conundrum many of us middle aged folk?!, face every year, be it shortly before an India trip or during gift giving festivals when our parents, in-laws or older relatives are here in the US.

Why should giving a gift to someone in the 55-80 age group who have kids and grandkids, be so difficult ?

I will elaborate.. Finally I have the time and inclination to elaborate and I don't get paid by the word to write this blog anyways.. so I get to ramble on!

Scene 1 (1995) : (before first trip back to India)

me : (to dad) what do you want ?
Dad : get me sunglasses. The doctor has told me that my skin problem is because of direct sunlight. I wear only full sleeve shirts these days. So get me a cap and or sunglasses..
Me : sure (I go buy a Rayban for 50 bucks and take it to India)

Dad : Nice glasses. Fits me well too.. How much did you pay for it?
Me : how does that matter. You wanted glasses. You have never ever asked me for anything. I got you nice glasses that fit. Wear it.
Dad : How much did you pay for it?
Mom : Your dad was so upset that you sent all those photos by mail just three months before your trip. The postage stamp says $8.50 !(doing mental math) that was like 400 rupees! How can you be so wasteful? Where did we go wrong in raising you! You have changed in less than two years! This is exactly why I told your dad not to send you so far away! blah blah blah and more blah..
Dad : Look at him! He still has not answered my question! How much did you pay?
Me : $50. But that is the cheapest original Ray-Ban glass you can get in the US. Even if you buy it in the smuggled goods Burma Bazzaar here in Madras, it would cost you that!
Dad : Shakes his head, doesnt say anything.

(I found out in 2001 that the glasses were never worn. They stayed put in the "Godrej" locker along with jewelry and important documents. It is probably still there, accumulating in value. Someday when the world comes to an end and aliens search the earth for clues about human life, they will find that Ray-ban and will know something?)

Scene 2 (2003): (mom and dad are here on their first visit)
me : Amma, what do you want for a gift?
Mom : If you go to work at 9:00 and come home by 5:00 to be with Jr. and stay healthy, that is gift enough!
me : But what you are suggesting will get me fired and I will be sick anyways if I dont have a job and will have to support a family!.. besides, even you have the flu and you have been inside the house for the last month!
Mom : I can't talk to you anymore. I need a lawyer to talk to you. I got Sari's and Jewelry from India. Have not had a single occasion to wear them out here in this place. Start listening to your mom, at least your wife! That is gift enough..
me : I can only give you something physical which I buy from a store. That is all the bandwidth I have.. so tell me what you want!!
Mom : Then I dont want anything. I am fine!

Scene 3 (2004): (MIL is here 2nd visit. Her first visit went well. She wanted a perfume and she got it. Rather uneventful)
Me : what do you want ?
MIL : It has been almost a year since my dad passed away!
Me : (Mom was better.. Is she going to ask me to bring her dad back to life?)
I am going to shop at Wal-Mart.. Do you want any specific gift..
MIL : No. I am fine. If I need anything, I will buy it myself next time we go to Wal-Mart.. If you stop fighting with my daughter, that alone is gift enough..
Me : (ARRARGHHH! That will teach me never to leave that an open ended question...) Okay, I will try. Tell that to her also.

Scene 4 (2005) : BIL is here
Me : What do you want ?
BIL : Let's go to Fry's Electronics
Me : That's my boy!
BIL : Actually I don't need anything.. let's just window shop and if we find something, we can always order it online on black friday!
Me : (getting all teary eyed).. Anything.. anything for a guy who just said that.. take the whole store if you want!

Now that I have clearly shown you the vast divide in getting a gift for a twenty something and a fifty or sixty something, I will list all the gifts that have actually worked (even if for that moment only. This includes success stories from friends). Before we go into things that work, a short note on things that do not work! Any thing that has a US plug for 110 V, you will be cursed and will go to hell. Your IQ will also be questioned! Now back to things that do work...

1. Peppermill (preferably the fancy IKEA ones, but fill them with Cardamom seeds instead of pepper) works great for families that drink tea, and who put cardamom in their tea! You will become famous with the local 50+ crowd. The downside : You might be taking a suitcase full of those peppermills on your next India trip.

2. The cute v-tech phone (from Costco)set with four receivers which have the intercom feature between the phones! There is only one physical line that gets connected to the base with answering machine (this does not need any split lines that instantly cause problems in India with the BSNL). This also gives mom/dad, no.. just Mom, a chance to have total power over the house!

3. The one click umbrella. Click the button to open, click it to close automatically. I believe it is availble in plenty in India now and is no longer a novelty. But my grandpa liked it then years ago!

4. Handheld ear thermometers, home blood sugar test kits, blood pressure kits, etc. Works with the ladies. The ones with graphing capabilities to show trends works well with the men.

5. Digital cameras. I know, I know. They are available in India in equal abundance and for lower prices.. but believe me, most of the people I know say "Digital, bigital. Bah! This is old country. These things will never catch on here." Once someone gives it to them as a gift, they start using it, at least for a few days. Then it usually goes to the "Godrej" and they say "I told you. We are old people. We are not electronic savvy."

6. Pedometers. So they can count how many feet they walked. They tend to revel in the details.

Mom : Today I walked 2483 steps in 23 mins and 14 seconds.
Dad : Hi, how come I walked with you and did 12 steps less in the same time?
Mom : See I was on the outside closer to the street. You were closer to the pavement.. so I had to take more steps than you!
Dad : Tomorrow, I am going on the outside!

(trust me, these conversations can be very cute!)

7. Ziploc freezer bags by the box, be it sandwich, quart or gallon size. A big hit, especially if you land before Navarathri season. Ideal for packing sundal's for the visitors!

8. Polident! For those of you who do not know, the elders who have fake tooth, have a tough time cleaning their dentures in India. This effervescent tablet releases peroxide bubbles and cleans the fake teeth and prevents infection! (If you are buying these tablets, please also buy them a glass. These don't work on stainless steel tumblers. Not for the tumblers anyways! and you might be held responsible)

9. Ferro Rocher chocolates. The ones with diabetes will curse you openly, but will eat one and give you their best blessing anyways! Somehow the individually gold foil wrapped chocolates in fancy packaging does the trick. It is available in India in food world stores (I think), but the packaging is much nicer in the ones available in US stores. Mrs. May's almond crunch is another big winner.

10. Bengay!!! Now, this is the number one item that is a sure winner. I pretty much take half a suitcase of Bengay ointment when I go to India. Apparently the elders feel that the Bengay from the local costco here is far better than the Bengay available in India. Even the company that makes Bengay thinks this claim cannot be true, but they are not complaining because I shell out a few hundred bucks for the same stuff where they would make a few bucks in India for the same medicine. Now the irony of it is I bring in half a suitcase of Volini ointment from India for the senior citizens here! They claim Volini is much better than Bengay! (Look at the ingredients on both and you will laugh your behind off!). The grass (or painkiller) is always greener on the other side! All said and done, Bengay is the winner.

Happy holidays folks!

ps. Read through the comments for Laks suggestions on what not to give.

pps. Do add your suggesions in the comment section! Collective learning is a big plus on this topic!


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I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:00 PM, Blogger Gopinath Sundharam wrote...

So true Sundar! My mom acts the same way. But, I still buy things for the home in India and for her.. while a few of them go untouched or into "Godrej", some are extensively used. :)

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:37 PM, Blogger Lak wrote...

Nice list ... Is this a Google bomb?

My family seems to prefer Icy-Hot to Bengay. It's all probably the same thing.

To add to your list ... all these brands are available in India but somehow are quite shoddy.

11. Quaker oats for those times when the elderly can't keep anything in and need bland food ...

12. Levi's for the 15-30 crowd.

13. Dress shirts from the US, even the ones made in India. The "export-quality" ones there just aren't. One of these days, I need to blog about the lousy stuff I ended up buying because the airline lost my bags -- nothing I bought in India lasted more than a month.

Perhaps more importantly, the stuff you should NOT take (product of bitter experience):

1. Dark chocolate. I love stuff with 70-80% cocoa. Apparently, it's an acquired taste.

Add to this list on my blog ...

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 1:57 PM, Blogger Lak wrote...

Oh, here's the link to list of stuff to NOT take.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 8:51 PM, Blogger Swatantra wrote...

Very true picture! The most amazing is keeping them safe in the godrej!

The list i s really good!

Wish you and family a very happy holiday!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:28 PM, Blogger Terri wrote...

sundar, in a few years we need to make up wishlists to make life easier for our own kids.

P.S. On behalf of your wife, did you give your mother-in-law what she really wanted?

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...


nice list.

re: mailing photos home, i now use rangeela photos.

does #2 on your list not have a 110v connection requirement?

where is #3 available? i've never had one myself! need to go shop tomorrow.

why is #5 there? your arguments appear to counter it.

re: #9, most chocolates from hgere work well. some folks have favourites such as the hershey cookies and cream etc. and yes, mostly anything you can get here is available there too (but then, hasn't that always been the case?). the factors you need to consider are: a) they probably cost twice (or more) as much over there and b) you won't have time to purchase them there anyway!

if you are still having trouble with that gift for your m-i-l, you can probably take a learning trip to japan.


liked your list too! :-) i don't know when you last bought something in india, but my experience has not been as bad as yours except with kids' toys (i guess the chinese use indian kids as unpaid qa experts). i did have trouble fitting in the so-called xxxl size shirts in india though (no, while i am horizontally challenged, i am not really that big!) - i bet those shirts were not export quality.

- s.b.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Lakshmi wrote...

Not fair. You deal only with older people, or youngsters. What about people in the middle, who are too old to be seen with mp3-earphones and too young to want Bengay ?
Here is a gentle hint on what we would like !

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:23 AM, Blogger Terri wrote...

This comment has been removed by the author.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:27 AM, Blogger Terri wrote...

s.b., the learning trip tips have been promptly forwarded to the concerned party. It's heartening to know other women suffer from the same issues, especially with regard to Rank 5. I still don't understand why this is such an issue for men.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:09 AM, Blogger S wrote...

White toblerone for my dad :) that's about the only thing I come up with after considerable brain racking ... mom is easy and so is bro, but dad .... what do you buy someone who has everything? loved your post.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 10:38 AM, Blogger Sundar Narayanan wrote...

s.b. #2 - you are right. But I have access to a 220 V plug in India that converts to 9V.. so that issue was temporarily resolved.. yes, but you have a point. the Vtech phone violates the guideline

the umbrella is available at Walmart

the digital camera works.. but for a few weeks..and works only if there is someone in the 15-25 age group in the house willing to download the pictures and do some slideshows for grandpa..

Need to add Quaker oats to the list.. although they have some australian version avaialbe cheap and in plenty in Madras now..


happy holidays folks..

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:29 AM, Blogger Kavi wrote...

Oh Bengay !!! How true ! We are like this only !

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...


have you considered a photo book, or a lulufied version of your blog or other autobiographical writings)?

i created my first photobook (thanks to a recent 'yahoo photos liquidation' offer) over the last week or so - taht's how long it took me to go through all my photos - and enjoyed the result (yet to see the hard copy, but the soft copy was impressive to say the least).

- s.b.

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 7:17 AM, Blogger Lazy Blogger wrote...

Here are some more -
1) Huge packets of dry fruits and nuts from costco/sam's club?
2) Add clingfilm to the ziploc bag category
3) 12 or 16 pack of dove soap

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

i was searching for bengay in google and i stumbled upon your article - had fun reading LOL - keep blogging

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 5:41 AM, Blogger Regin wrote...

Great post and style! I was actually searching if they sell Bengay at Costco and saw your post. Keep typing Bro!

I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...

I was searching for Bengay and found your blog. Last 15 years that is the always on the list :)


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