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No Childs Play

Spoilt for choice

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Daisy, Princess and Light Blue. No, these aren't titles of flower shops or comic books or the newest styles in denims. They are designer fragrances that school girls are taking home as birthday gifts from their friends. If it's perfumes and pricey designer labels for girls, it is gizmos that run into several thousands of rupees for the boys. Teenagers ad tweens in urban India are exchanging super-expensive presents so much so that the concept of gifting has taken on a definite monetary hue among the school-goers.

The focus of attention at inventive, themebased birthday parties are the colourful packages that come with invisible price tags. While the girls mostly get accessories, make-up (lip and eye wear) and apparel that cost upwards of two or three thousand rupees, boys' gifts often cross the five-figure mark. Most of the time, these are individual exercises;pooling to gift is the last, untrendy resort.

Anita Gracias, an active counsellor with SAHAI Helpline, said, "Image is a big thing with modern youngsters. " Gracias, who has worked with scores of schoolchildren, explained: "A lot of parents stretch themselves to fund gifts. They push themselves because the child has created an image of affording and leading a particular ifestyle, which their gifts must reflect and they don't want to let the child down. It doesn't necessarily have to be a birthday gift, it could be how the child commutes or where she eats or hangs out. " Gracias added, "There's also peer pressure. A child often says, 'everybody is doing that' - going to a movie or buying a particular kind of gift or throwing a party - and parents are forced to keep up. Look at the gifts parents give their children for their birthdays - it often runs into tens of thousands of rupees. That's where you can trace this expensive gifting trend to. " The Western practice of opening gifts during the party is catching on in India too: who brings what is out there for everyone to see. Saina Unwalla, a Mumbai housewife and mother of two girls aged nine and seven, said: "Earlier, we opened gifts after the party, but now, after Hannah Montana, Toy Story and Friends, opening gifts is one of the 'events' of the party and they even announce who it is from. Obviously this means that gifts are costing much more. "

Recently, Unwalla's nine-year-old daughter Zenobia threw a surprise party for her best friend. The party, however, was just a part of the birthday gift. Zenobia's friend is a Hannah Montana fan so she gifted her a hamper of related merchandise that cost Rs 12, 000.

In two separate incidents in schools in Bangalore and Mumbai, two boys under the ages of 12 carried toffees for their classmates on their birthdays. The bags of sweets were virtually untouched because ordinary sweets have no place in birthday celebrations today.

One of the gifts that Sarthak Dua, a class VIII student, received for his 12th birthday last month was the PS3 (Play Station3), costing Rs 18, 000. Sarthak said, "Varun (the friend who gave it to him) is my brother from another mother. I hope he does not find out I am gifting him the 16GB iTouch (worth Rs 16, 000) for his birthday next month. "

The parents of this generation of young adults recall that the most popular gifts during their own growing-up years were mugs or tiny pieces of silver jewelry or inexpensive car and bike accessories, all of which fit nicely into a Rs 50 budget. Comparatively, the sums their kids are spending today are astronomical. The cheaper gifts for boys today are shoes that cost anywhere between Rs 3000 and 5000 and for girls, it's makeovers that can be done in half that amount or less. Parents of today's teenagers plan ahead to accommodate their children's expensive gift demands, which, at most times, cannot be last minute purchases.

Vani Mehta, a working mother of two, while admitting that this might a disturbing trend, added that modern-day parenting was so demanding that she had few options. Vani said, "You are fighting so many battles with your teenagers today - about where they're going, how much time they are spending on their computers or in front of the mirrors - that this is really the last thing you want to get into a fight for. As you go along, you learn to pick your fights. So, sometimes your teenager does end up exchanging expensive gifts with friends. "

With inputs from Insiya Amir in Delhi

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