Spiralling prices, tumbling stock markets and fears of layoffs took away most of the glitter and sounds that is associated with the Diwali – the festival of lights that is celebrated in India. While economy blues dampened spirits, for many, the recent terror blasts also cast a long shadow.
Women light earthen lamps on the eve of Diwali
The stock market crash, which wiped out enormous investor wealth, kept Diwali shopping to a minimum. Sales of crackers, gold and dry fruits, which usually peak during the festival season, were lacklustre.
Just when most shopping malls and the friendly neighbourhood confectioner, though decked up were waiting for the elusive customer, a fall in gold prices gave jewelers a straw to hang on. But the rush was insignificant compared to previous years when the market was booming and sale of the yellow metal was far less than expected.
The story was not much different for dry fruit dealers. Normally, sales peak during the Diwali season for dry fruit chains but there was a sharp fall in demand this year due to cash crunch.
Drop in sales
Pravin Gupta, a dry fruit seller explains: "We usually sell dry fruits during Diwali. This time the prices of dry fruit have gone up, as they are very high. So naturally people know it. There is some crunch in the money account. So the sales are not so much this year. What we have heard is there is a slump in the market."
Firecrackers, which Indians love to buy, were no exception and sales were dull with authorities doling out very few licenses this year. Apart from the local factors, firecracker dealers also face Chinese competition but even then demand was low.
Alka Misra, a corporate director explains why the glow has dimmed this year: "Well, I guess it could be because of the global financial crisis. It has had a trickling effect in India as well. The stock market is down, peoples new wealth has come down. As a result people are not so joyous to celebrate Diwali with the same joie de vivre as they used to do earlier. It’s going to take some time for the economy to recover so it is going to persist for some time."
Fears of violence
Three years ago, just three days before Diwali enthusiastic shoppers were caught unawares when powerful blasts rocked the capital killing 61 people, including 34 at a popular market in Delhi. Some of that fear still lingers on.
Ranjini Kumari, a middle-class housewife has decided to make Diwali a quiet affair. She explains why the mood in the Indian capital, for instance, was distinctly sober:
"Everybody is afraid something is going to happen in the market so we do not spend much money there. During Diwali people normally purchase cars, order plasmas, new TVs. Now, I think they are not spending too much on these things. And moreover because of these bomb blasts, police is a little bit strict."
The glow certainly seems to have dimmed with fewer firecrackers and fewer shoppers. Diwali, which signifies the victory of good over evil, is celebrated with the lighting of earthen lamps in every household. Most Indians are now hoping those good times come back sooner than expected.