Posts Tagged 'gift economy'

Understanding the Gift Economy, II

Gift Economy by Manoj Pavithran

When I was preparing to write my piece on the gift economy for the Dictionary of Ethical Politics, I read a few essays by others but quickly abandoned that approach to ensuring that I was fully up-to-speed on the current thinking. As I explained with my customary lack of sensitivity, diplomacy, and fairness:

Unsurprisingly, [the gift economy] is a topic that appeals to well-meaning, good-natured, spiritually curious people. Unfortunately, this results in treatments that are often long on fuzzy-headed feel-good and short on rigor. I’m sure there are some very good essays on the gift economy to be found with a simple Google search; but I really had no stomach for a needle-in-haystack exercise that would subject me to the level of penetrating analysis found in the average Hallmark greeting card.

After I published my synopsis of the gift economy, I received a superb essay from my good friend, Manoj Pavithran, with a very different approach to the subject. Manoj is that rare and spectacular combination of deeply thoughtful and utterly brilliant; and his careful analysis is constructed with the considerable philosophical rigor one might expect from him. It represents a significant contribution to the growing, evolving appreciation of the gift economy.

Manoj is not simply a theorist of the gift economy; he is a practitioner. He lives in Auroville, a community founded, in part, on both collectivist and cooperativist gift economy ideals. He also played a direct and influential role in the gift economization of two significant product initiatives of Upasana Design Studio: the Tsunamika dolls and the Small Steps cloth shopping bags.

With his permission, I offer Manoj’s essay for your consumption and reflection.

Continue reading ‘Understanding the Gift Economy, II’

Understanding the Gift Economy

Iconic Tiffany's Box with Question Mark

I received an interesting assignment a couple weeks ago: write an explanation of the gift economy. Since the request came from my dear friend Nipun Mehta, to whom I can refuse nothing, I agreed; but I knew from the outset how challenging this seemingly straightforward task would be. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously observed about pornography, some things are easy to recognize and yet quite difficult to define.

The essay, now completed, is included in a new online reference, The Dictionary of Ethical Politics, a joint project of Resurgence and openDemocracy.

Continue reading ‘Understanding the Gift Economy’

Small Steps

Small Steps Reusable Carry Bags

Plastic carry bags, given and taken thoughtlessly at retail establishments around the world, are the purest of pure evil. The represent use of a non-renewable resource (petroleum) and energy to create an absolutely inessential, single-use product, with an active life-span of minutes, which become garbage almost as soon as it has seen the light of day. In India, where most people discard their trash wherever they happen to be standing at the moment, the problem is even worse, with littered bags proliferating in the streets, open-spaces, and waterways like weeds.

What can we do? Take one small step: carry a Small Steps reusable cloth bag for your groceries and other purchases.

Continue reading ‘Small Steps’

Seva Cafe on YouTube

seva-cafe-logo.jpg

It is a restaurant like no other, a shimmering oasis of the gift-economy in the heartless desert of the market economy. Diners pay what they want, from the heart, so that someone else may in the future enjoy the experience they are having; their food has already been paid for in advance, and they will recieve no tally at the meal’s end. It is a place where the volunteers who run the place, and patrons who dine there, share in contemplation — and the direct cultivation — of service, compassion, and giving. It is Ahmedabad’s Seva Cafe.
Continue reading ‘Seva Cafe on YouTube’

A Gift of Cloth

South Indian Veshti

We arrive at Chennai Central Station early; our train does not depart for another 45 minutes. I take the opportunity to find a tailor to perform a simple repair for me.

Across the lane from the side of the station stands a several-storied, style-bereft concrete building, typical of those which proliferated in Indian cities before the recent wave of urban affluence. The building is covered in scores-and-scores of small peeling signs — most painted directly onto the façade, announcing the presence of the merchants within. Inside is a warren of tiny shops – perhaps several hundred of them — some no bigger than the width of their doorway.

“Is this building having one tailor?” I inquire at the bookstall situated near the entrance, and find the place straightaway. The shop is scarcely big enough to accommodate the three skinny men within, two at sewing machines, the proprietor busy cutting cloth from handwritten measurements. At the mouth of the shop, on the concrete corridor, sits an ancient man who is obviously associated with the tailors, though he seems to be well past his working years and is idle. There is one other irony to the scene: the old man clearly has no use for tailoring. He wears only a veshti — the white, sarong-like dhoti of South India – a garment that contains only weaving, no stitching.

The old man’s veshti looks to be nearly as old as he is, and equally stained and battered. And yet, this supremely simple costume has an invariable elegance, which gives his bent, seated frame an air of dignity and stature. I am also wearing a veshti on the day – happy not having to chose between comfort and style for my upcoming 22 hour train journey – although I wear mine with a faded blue denim shirt, rolled up at the sleeves. The old man appraises my attire and gives me an approving bobble of the head. He turns to the head tailor and, in the lush, popcorn staccato of Tamil, says, “Take good care of this guy. He’s alright.” Perhaps this is the old man’s role at the shop: taking the non-linear measure of the customers.

My veshti is beginning to unravel at one corner, and I ask the tailors to turn the edge in a hem. It is simple work, which takes one of the men at the machines only a few minutes to perform, most of that consumed by pre-stitching meticulousness which I deeply appreciate, but which, in all honesty, the task probably does not merit.

When I have retied my veshti, I pull my wallet from my pack. I estimate that the repair will cost me five rupees; but perhaps they will ask ten. As I pull out a ten rupee note, the proprietor smiles and says to me, “No money. We will not take money for this thing. It is one small thing only.” “I insist on paying,” I reply. “This is how you earn your living, and you have already shown me great kindness by making my repair quickly.” His grin grows broader and his position more resolved. After a little more back-and-forth, I see that he will not be moved; and I understand the joy it gives this man – indeed, all four men – for them to make me this gift of service.

“Very well,” I say, “but you must take something as my gift.” I reach into my pack and pull out a small box of fresh kaju-pista sweets I had purchased for my journey. The proprietor takes the box and raises it to his forehead as if in prayer, and the men thank me as I take my leave.

There are two very traditional types of gifts in India: gifts of cloth and gifts of sweets. The former signifies the interweaving of our lives, the latter represents a wish for prosperity and happiness. Our exchange, miraculously, incorporated both elements.

It was just another beautiful transaction in the gift economy, with both sides profiting in the giving as well as the receiving. I have purchased many excellent sweets in my time in India; but I think those kaju-pista rolls were the best ever.


Blasts from the Past

Man Up!
Man up you pussy!

... because the Miami Dolphins NFL bullying episode brings the evergreen topic of the idiocy of manliness back into focus.

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Talking Turkey
how to cook a perfect turkey in half the time

... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.

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Filial Piety Awareness Day
Kaki Tusler, Mother's Day Celebrant

... because everyday is Mother's Day.

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America Dreaming Small
American Dream

... because the re-election of President Barak Obama has done nothing to turn America away from its recent ethos of small-mindedness.

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Serenity and Gratitude to Bring in the New Year
New Year's Eve at Tibetan Pavillion

... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.

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Incredible Vision
Infinite Vision

... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.

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Expelliarmus! Harry Potter and the Path to Gandhian Nonviolence
Expelliarmus, Potter, Gandhi, Nonviolence

... reprinted in frustration that a dumbass nonevent brought down David Petraeus, the most brilliant, influential, deeply flawed military strategist since Harry Potter.

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India Going Nowhere Fast
Nano in Flames

... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?

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Understanding the Gift Economy
Gift Economy Explained

... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

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