The changing face of Diwali in India

Flush with cash and a booming 8% YoY growth-based economy, the festival of lights or Diwali has changed dramatically from the years I was a kid. The basics of celebration remain, but depending on who you speak to its either muted or redefined. So, how has it changed:

1. Fireworks: when we were kids “loudest” was a proud badge we had to own in our neighborhood. Everyone competed for the “bombs” that shattered even a small piece of glass. It was not the politically correct days. The runner up had to settle for the “longest” prize. Small, but bright dazzling displays were for “kids”.

These days every celebrity, kids on the street are going for the “clean, green” Diwali. Reduce noise pollution, smoke, and accidents that cause injuries and in some cases death. Its for the better, but the festivities are muted no doubt.

2. Sweets: Next to fireworks more money is spent on boxes of sweets that are both the norm of corporate and family gifting. Not any more. I mostly miss the very nicely decorated “regular sweets” like Cashew
cake, Almond cake that were “colored” and “dressed up” for the
occasion.

Thanks to increasing awareness of the ills of obesity, the corporate norm is changed to dried fruits & nuts – cashews, almonds, and the like. Again, this is another trend that’s for the better, is the philosophical view I take.

3. Clothes. The 3rd leg in the Diwali spend. New clothes were the norm. Most times in India, you’d get only 3 unique opportunities to get new clothes each year – your birthday, Diwali and back-to-school (which was mostly a uniform, so there). The new clothes I got at Diwali were proudly worn on weekends each time we went visiting friends and family. Very treasured, we’d spend an entire month selecting, re-selecting, getting them tailored and finally trying them out several times before they “fit” just right.

The new trend to buy clothes during a “40% off sale” makes buying new clothes for Diwali a quaint traditional experience. I do see many folks still shopping before the Diwali season, but the “Diwali sale” has been replaced by the “Year round sale”. This trend is clearly a borrowed one, so I am on the fence on this.

4. The rituals: Getting up in the morning at 4 am, followed by a hot shower and distribution of sweets to everyone near your home was a very traditional experience. In fact we’d fight over who got up earlier “I got up at 345, atleast 15 min before you” or “I am not going to sleep all night so I can get the fireworks started earlier”.

The new norm is “sleep in”, spend a little time with the family, get some breakfast and get some rest from the daily commute. I dont get this trend, but hey its changed so you gotta keep up with the times.

5. Decorating your home: It was the Indian equivalent of “spring cleaning”. You’d buy new furniture, clean the home (most cases repaint it), throw away old books, magazines (or actually recycle them) and make way for one new piece of furniture every year. Just a month before Diwali the hectic pace of activity would be overwhelming. My mom would actually get no time for anything else since she was busy getting everything “ready for Diwali”.

This has changed in a more subtle way – you can see the hesitation this year more profoundly with the question marks around the economy. New purchases are being put off, corporate gifting has taken a hit and the “home cleaning” bit has waned off.

So if you are in America, and want to relate to this, think of a Christmas without gifts, without the trip back home to meet friends and family, no Christmas tree to decorate and no lights to put up. Its probably for the better – fewer Christmas trees get felled, we reduce our “consumption” and reduce our usage of gasoline (since we dont drive to meet friends, family), but it would be very different wont it?

If you celebrate Diwali, a very happy & safe Diwali to you. Look around, there are a lot more things that have changed with Diwali than when you were a kid. What’s the biggest change you see?

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