Gift of the Magi 2.0 1

Stunning necklace

“Don’t forget to take sweets when you go to meet your uncle and aunt. Both of them have diabetes, and they are not supposed to eat it…but that does not matter.  You should take sweets with you when you meet them”, Prem remembered his mother telling him. It was that practice that had made him unprepared for his current reality. He came from a world where there were only occasions, and there were prescribed gifts for prescribed occasions. Recipients did not matter, and a gift as inappropriate as sweets for the diabetic was deemed appropriate. In his current place and time, people took themselves seriously, and there was every chance of offending them by not respecting their individuality. Choosing the perfect gift – after all – is the ultimate act of recognising and respecting such individuality; and you are always expected to give the perfect gift.

It would soon be March 24, and he had to get a gift. “I hate the fact that they keep adding these special days. We already have special days for love, friendship, fathers, mothers, human rights and whatnot! Why this new one?” He felt a special kind of tiredness that one gets when one searches online in vain. The eyes became hot, the body stiff and the mind, empty. He flipped from one webpage to another in search of the perfect gift.

“March 24 is it?”, asked his colleague sensing his anxiety.

“Yeah. I just don’t seem to be able to find the perfect gift”

“What are some things that she likes?”

“umm… stuff she can wear…”, said Prem sounding unconvinced. He had been rather preoccupied with his work and himself, and had not managed to watch out for the things that she would love to have as a gift. “I have to get her the perfect gift though”, he said as an afterthought. “I have to show her that I understand. It’s March 24 of all days”.

A few years ago, March 24 was been declared as the day for cross-cultural couples – a day on which such couples are expected to demonstrate understanding. It all started two years ago, or one could say 10 years ago, depending on one’s perspective. Peace activists worried by the prospect of wars in an era of growing cultural misunderstanding had started a day of understanding for people across cultures. That was 10 years ago. Enterprising marketers discovered the day two years ago and realized that they could sell a thing or two if they focused on the growing market of cross-cultural couples. The relentless advertisements began two years ago, and that is when March 24 became significant for most people.

Show her that you care said the first ad and he ignored it. The next picture was of a dejected woman who had just learned that he does not care. He tried to ignore that as well. The advertisements then started following him everywhere. It was in his inbox, his newspaper, phone, GPS, radio, TV, road and everywhere he went. Respect. Care. Love. Despair. Joy. Dejection. Oneness. Abandonment. Words kept tumbling onto the screen, and his anxiety increased with every word.

“Did you try”, asked his colleague.

“What is that?”

“Dude! It’s the coolest new app in town. Can’t believe that you do know it.”

“What is it?”

“These guys, they track everything you do. Based on that they can suggest you the top three gifts for anyone. It’s amazing. They will be bigger than eBay. Trust me”.

The website sounded impressive. We track every product that appears on your loved one’s screen, the website announced.We analyse the products that people browse most and spend the longest time looking at. Based on this, we get unprecedented insights into just the thing that your special one wants to have, but feels like she does not deserve it i.e. the perfect gift.

“That is convincing… but does it work?”

“Do you know your girlfriend better or does your computer?”

“I guess, the computer”

“Of course, that is a no-brainer. It gets to spend more time with her, it gets to know her most intimate thoughts, and it gets to know things about her that she will not allow anyone else know”.

Somewhat unconvinced, he searched for a gift coupon instead. An advertisement appeared on the search screen: Gift coupon: the perfect way to show that you do NOT care. It was watching him. There was no escape.

Della in the meanwhile was looking for insightful gifts as well, and from the same source. It recommended three gifts for him, and the top of the list was an earring. “That is one terrible piece not worth wearing”, she thought to herself. “Why would he want an earring…he does not wear one”.

“Could it be that he was reading about it to buy one for me, and perhaps the silly computer imagined that he wanted it for himself?”

“Is he seeing someone else?”

She glanced at the second option, and it was a service to send money to India to the ones he loves. “I am not the only one, am I?”

The third suggestion was a subscription for a dating website. She was now ready to break down. “I never really thought that it would come to this”, she said to herself. I really want to spend my life with him, she thought. “I have somehow got to convince him not to leave”.

Unknown to him, a gift with insight was tracking everything he did. The earring had become the talk of the town when a well-known socialite appeared on camera wearing that. Just that. It was too special a news to ignore. Prem indulged himself in it between the boredom of his work, till he indulged in the boredom of his work in between the news. A gift with insight faithfully recorded his interest in the product.

“There is just one way for me to find out if he really cares”, she thought. “I will see if he buys me the perfect gift”. She had always wanted a book series on mediaeval English history that she never dared to buy for herself. It was too costly to indulge in. “Will he buy that for me? Or perhaps, he will buy me the earring… Oh God, I wish he buys me the earring”.

I should tell you at this point, my dear reader, that our protagonist had not realised her interest in mediaeval history, whereas A Gift With Insight had accurately recognised it. But like any good web service, it had a revenue model. It would identify the top 10 products that someone wanted badly and allow the manufacturers of these products to bid to be among the top three suggestions displayed to the seekers. It was a win-win. Surprisingly, publishers of mediaeval history were not among the highest bidders. Prem would never get to realise her greatest wish. While we are at it, let me add that the only enthusiastic bidders for an Indian male age 28 were companies that transferred money and dating websites that Della was suggested.

Della started probing online to see if she could establish any connection between him and the diamond earring. A gift with insight faithfully recorded that she was reading about the earring, while she bordered on a nervous breakdown not knowing what he was up to. “I really wish that he will give me the earring”.

March 24 arrived, and with a mix of trepidation and hope, Prem presented her with the earrings. She paused, examining them closely, a flicker of confusion and then relief crossing her face. “For me?” she asked, her voice tinged with a hint of disbelief. “I thought… Well, never mind what I thought. They’re beautiful, thank you.” She laughed lightly, a sound more of relief than pure joy. Prem, keenly perceptive, noted her appreciation of the earrings. “The website does deliver,” he mused internally, feeling a wave of unburdening sweep over him, a stark contrast to the relentless bombardment of advertising that had clouded his recent days.

“My love”, she said, “I thought about what I should give you for a very long time. I wanted to give you something that you would love, but more importantly I want to show you that I will stand by you no matter what you decide to do. I have sent the gift to your place, you will find it waiting for you there”.

Prem went home to find an envelope waiting for him. He opened it with a sense of accomplishment that he had finally found her the right gift. He was curious to know if she met his standards. The envelope was opened and he found a membership coupon for a popular dating website.

“Why has she sent me this? Is this a signal that she’s moving on? She even said the she will stand by me no matter what I do… Was that to prepare me? Did she smile out of joy or was she mocking me?…” There was no end to his questions.

The Magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the baby in the manager. O. Henri believed that they invented the art of giving Christmas presents. They are said to have brought gold and delicacies to the one who went on to become the greatest apostle of voluntary poverty. I guess they invented the art of inappropriate gifts as well. And here I have related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children who unwisely sacrificed for each other. But in a last word to the wise of these days, let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

This story was inspired by The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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One thought on “Gift of the Magi 2.0

  • Ram

    Good one da, thoroughly enjoyed it. For a O Henry style ending, you should have had her give him membership and he should have gifted 🙂