We Indians have been travelling overseas for several centuries now but the thrill, novelty and premium attached to the process of going abroad never seems to wane. While visiting a foreign country can certainly be an exciting experience, we do not seem to be able to shed our penchant for bringing back gifts for friends and family members who we imagine are waiting with bated breath for our return. Souvenir shopping must surely account for a large part of conventional Indian tourist activity while abroad.
Way back, when we were children, we enjoyed the tales of those who had returned from faraway lands as much as the anticipation of what those voyages would yield in terms of goodies. I remember receiving a box of colour crayons whose European manufacturer claimed that they planted trees for every box of pencils they produced. When I rushed to use those crayons, I found the colours pale and lifeless — however much I pressed the pencil onto the drawing sheet, the colours wouldn’t pop up. My Indian colour-box, on the contrary, gave me vivid colours down to the last stubby millimetre. To be fair, though, it also left multi-hued stains on my finger-tips that a whole day of hand-washing would not erase, not to mention an oily smell on my clothes.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to obey the unwritten Indian rule that one must bring gifts back for those who do not accompany us on our travails … oops, travels abroad. The rupee goes only a short distance in the smallest of shops in most tourist paradises today. Let’s not forget how airlines imperiously enforce restrictions on even the slightest ounce of excess baggage. Carting your cache of chocolates, perfumes and show-pieces from destination to destination as you travel is also a huge hassle.
I’ve often wondered why some enterprising youngster hasn’t yet established a chain of airport souvenir shops in the ‘Arrival’ areas of our bigger airports. I have a concept in mind, though I do not know if it is a viable proposition. My imaginary airport souvenir outlet would not sell Indian kitsch to firang tourists. It would firmly and exclusively stock touristy souvenirs that Indians are most likely to buy from all over the globe.
You can pick up a box of Chinese chocolates if you’re returning from a trip to Beijing or a maple-leaf T-shirt that says, ‘Canada returned’ if you’re travelling back from Toronto. Or plaster of Paris models of Big Ben, the London red bus, the English bobby and similar much-lugged around figurines that keep the souvenir industry abroad smiling. Fridge magnets, mugs, key-chains, photo-frames, miniature plates and plaques — you get the drift. The best part would be that you can buy them at Indian prices with Indian currency on Indian soil for your extended Indian family.
Instead of ‘Duty Free’, the carry-bags from this wonder shop can read ‘Duty Bound’ because as good Indians, we are duty bound to bring thoughtful gifts for people back home from trips abroad.