The Art of Giving & Receivingby I.J. SINGH Our thoughts these days are occupied with the gifts that we give or receive, to and from friends; families; coworkers, both below and those that outrank us; even some who are virtual strangers. Diehard enemies, too, exchange gifts if only to remind each other that they are still alive and may not be ignored except at one's peril. Some gifts are both invaluable and priceless at the same time. The gift of life for instance can neither be measured nor weighed for its price, even though some increasingly find a way to balance it against dollars and cents - such as when one buys a kidney or rents out a womb like a luxury hotel suite for a much needed pregnancy. So many gifts to buy and give, or return some the next day to the store, trade in or recycle those that we receive. In the post-Madoff era it is all a boon to the economy. And heaven knows we need it. There are cultural norms that must be observed. Sometimes it is kosher to leave the price tag on the gift, as in some Japanese circles, but not often, so that the receiver is not left in ignorance of your generosity. The market value of the gift must be weighed carefully against the nature and degree of the relationship. And this is where we often confuse price with value. They are very different in reality but can be difficult to parse. It is not rare then to see the gift giver walk away from the substance and look only at the price. Clearly then, it becomes easier to gift cash instead of a real product. To my mind tangible items, in the possession of the receiver, mutate in meaning over time. Some acquire value with time, others degrade rapidly; both possibilities are a measure of the changing relationship between the giver and the receiver. Cash gifts have little, if any, intrinsic value and even that is transitory. One forgets what use it was put to - something that made survival possible and that would be etched in the heart of the receiver, a lasting heirloom that would likely be treasured, or was it spent over a fine repast that lasted but a couple of hours. I have a book that was gifted to me when I won in a small school competition in India over 60 years ago; I brought it with me when I came to the States almost 50 years ago. This pocket book of English verse is a paperback; and the pages are falling out of it. Now turning its pages too vigorously would surely destroy them. For use, it has been supplanted by other books that are more current and useful. Yet, it remains a treasured companion. Its value cannot be measured by its deterioration or its dwindling price. Similar feelings extend to a brief translation of selected hymns from the Guru Granth that came from my parents when they suspected the first awakenings of my interest in Sikhi. Long and hard my wife and I have sat and pondered over what to gift a certain newly married couple. They are from the local Sikh community. The families have made oodles of money that is constantly on ostentatious display. Their needs are satisfied, their wants may never be. The invitation clearly instructs: "No Box Gifts." In enclosing cash, what price should we place on the relationship - how often do we see them? Have they been to our functions and have we attended many of theirs? Yes, young people often title us "Uncle and Auntie" but these are generic honorifics and perhaps without much meaning. Will the young people know the amount that has been gifted? Would they even connect the amount to the right givers? Would they ever write a thank you note? Within weeks of living in this culture I had learned that a thank-you note, preferably hand-written, within 10 days is de rigueur, even after a good dinner, much less a wedding. It is a lesson that many of our young people seem to have missed, along with their immigrant parents. There was a time when books made excellent gifts. Now it is only preschoolers who can be charmed with such tokens and trivia. And even they perhaps prefer more colour and baubles. What can I say about gifts exchanged at office parties? They often seem to come from a sense of duty. I am old-fashioned enough to think that some thought needs to go into the giving of a gift as also on receiving one. It is not the price we need to look at, but the purpose and desire that drives the giving as well as the taking. Why do I gift a bunch of stamps from around the world to a young kid? Why am I hunting for a user friendly book on Sikhism that a kid would want read to him or her? It is not because these toys are handy and cheap but because I want to influence and drive the children's curiosity in a certain direction. Would the child appreciate it? Perhaps not quite now. Would the parents? Perhaps never, but I hope - and hope springs eternal. Sikhi, among other religions of humanity, visualizes God as the great unceasing giver: "Dendaa day laenday thakk paa-ay," says the Guru Granth. And then to us Sikhs it counsels: "Ghaal khaaye kich hatho(n) deh - Give and contribute from the fruits of an honest living! Thomas Aquinas reminds us that it is in giving that we receive. I look at the five articles of faith that have defined and shaped Sikhs over time and I see them as the gifts of the Guru. And like most who have not earned them but receive them as an entitlement, we have neither loved the gifts wisely nor valued them well. To treasure them and to find meaning in them is our onus now. Become not one of the many that know the price of everything and the value of nothing. A gift not freely given or one valued as a freebie is no gift at all; at best it remains a commercial transaction. Gratitude for a gift is always a duty, sometimes a pleasure, ideally it is both. Does that make me a bit of a curmudgeon? I sure hope so.