Diwali, the season of festivities, of homecoming, thanksgiving, and, of course, of indulging in gifting. Five women talk about what’s in their gift bags this Diwali.
It’s time… time to turn towards the light… rather, scores of warm, twinkling lights…that bring immense joy, togetherness, hope … it’s that time of the year when families across India celebrate the festival of lights, of homecoming, of thanksgiving, and, of course, of indulging.
If Diwali is about recalling legends – be it of the triumphant return of Ram to his kingdom, Ayodhya; Krishna’s conquest over the demon king Narakasura; or the incarnation of the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi – it’s also about hitting the shops, with a vengeance.
What Christmas is to the West, Diwali is to India, as families and friends try to outdo one another in giving the most premium, innovative and thoughtful gifts of the season.
We speak to everyday women, homemakers, educators and professionals, to see what’s in their goody bags this year.
And, of course, since this is just the beginning of the season of giving, consider this a repository of some great, practical ideas that can only come from women who care.
For Gurgaon-based placement consultant, Seema Gupta, 48, Diwali marks the beginning of the festive season; it’s the time to relive memories, pick special treats for everyone and spread the joy.
“I take time out from my hectic work and other commitments, to celebrate with family, friends and especially with the elderly people at a non-governmental organisation I have been associated with for some years now. It’s also the perfect time to thank everyone for their love and support and I truly believe in extending the same affection to those lesser privileged than us,” she says.
And what better way to spread the joy than by giving carefully selected gifts.
Says the mother of two:
“When I was little my grandfather used to give all the children in the family Rs 100 each and this princely sum was judiciously deployed to buy the different things we desired. This annual ritual was the highlight of the festivities for me. These days, though gifting is pretty much done all year round, there’s just something special about this occasion. This season, I’ve picked up Store Gift Cards for the kids – it gives them the freedom to choose what they want. In a bid to be eco-friendly, I’m giving plants and decorative planters that come with handmade ‘diyas.’ And can any celebration be complete without good eats? So it’s the usual dry fruits-chocolates-mithai combo for everyone.”
Taru D’Souza, 50, a savvy homemaker, adoring mother and thoughtful hostess comes into her own every festive season.
“Diwali quite literally lights up our lives and brings immense cheer and fun with it, a trend that continues right through to Christmas and New Year. The parties, shopping, gifting and feasting provide a much-needed break from the otherwise mundane, everyday routine. The one great aspect about this festival is that it brings people of all faiths together in a spirit of giving and celebrations. Friends and business associates, irrespective of their religious beliefs, make it a point to meet up,” she says.
Of course, apart from a scrumptious spread, the one thing that everyone looks forward to at these festive get-togethers is the wonderful gifts, and D’Souza says she’s really gung-ho when it comes to this “tradition.”
She says, “Gifts, whether small or big, bring smiles and for me, that’s the real thing. As children, every year, my sister and I used to get a doll and play-set each; even today, I associate this day with that feeling of pure pleasure. I do the bulk of my shopping online these days, because it’s easy, comes with great discounts and is home delivered. When I buy something, I keep in mind the likes and dislikes of the person I am gifting to and, yes, if I can combine gifting with philanthropy then it’s a total win-win.”
What are the top three things on her list? “This year, I recommend supporting local artisans by buying handicrafts; it boosts their livelihood and looks great, too. Then there are the customary terracotta lamps and candles; I like to pick these up from charitable institutions so that the proceeds can be used to further their work. And dry fruits are always welcome because they have greater shelf life!”
Diwali, and festivals, in general, are when Dr Radha Iyer, a professor of entrepreneurship in Mumbai, takes a breather from her pressing professional duties.
She especially looks forward to the pre-Diwali party, complete with games, at work. “As a South Indian, Diwali is all about waking up early in the morning, performing puja, spending quality family time, dressing up in new clothes and gorging on typical sweets and savouries… pakodam, mixture, jahangiri, balushahi, shankar pali… it’s a long, delectable list. Dinner with close friends is a new addition to this itinerary now.”
One for low-key, more intimate, celebrations, Dr Iyer likes to keep the gifting really personal and limited to close family and her staff. “I see shopping as a family activity; it’s a great way to be with each other. We usually go clothes shopping and wear something new on D-Day. Truth be told, sometimes my shopping extends into a few days after the festival too!”
Keeping a reasonable budget in mind – “which is essential if one has to spend judiciously” – Dr Iyer suggests, “Clothes are a definite favourite with me when it comes to gifting; decorative diyas, too, are much appreciated besides interesting, useful home décor items. Whatever I decide to give, I always see if it’s something I’d like to receive.”
Nothing fills Dr Jyoti Rana, a marketing professor from Faridabad, with a deeper sense of happiness and satisfaction than the changing season and the profusion of lights that are intrinsic to Diwali festivities.
“For me, it’s a time to think about what makes others happy, and what better way to bring unadulterated joy than by giving something that I know will be valued. I think about the likes and choices of my family and friends so that the gifts are meaningful and, yes, handy. I am particular about the gifts I give, so the decision is solely mine, although, as far as possible, I try to keep three parameters in mind – it should be liked by the person it’s meant for, connected with traditional Indian art and crafts, and it has to be useful,” she shares.
Dr Rana’s must-gives this year: “Brass diyas, symbolic of light and knowledge; metal candle-stands with handmade candles, because they look good and are popular; and Ganpati, preferably in brass, symbolic of prosperity.”
Market research consultant Dr Anjali Chopra is convinced that Diwali is when the “barriers come down and everyone really makes an effort to be with one another and reach out.”
In a fast-paced city like Mumbai, “where people may be in each other’s face and yet be anonymous, this is one of those rare occasions when everyone comes together to have fun,” she says.
“I have a young son and we observe the traditions associated with Diwali as it’s one way in which he will the learn the basic values associated with any festive occasion – the tradition of spending time with loved ones, the tradition of giving thanks for all the good things we enjoy in life, the tradition of sharing the joy and bounty with everyone… through the act of gifting. Every year, we sit together and paint and decorate earthen lamps, which we give to our close friends and also use at home. Apart from this, as a family, we like to sit and enjoy the brightly lit Mumbai skyline as the skyscrapers are all lit up! It’s really a vision to behold,” she reveals.
As part of her Mission Spread the Joy this year, Dr Chopra roots for: “hand-painted diyas, because who doesn’t appreciate the personal touch; stuff that can be used to decorate one’s home; and yes, Indian mithai, most definitely. I buy things that are locally produced because I believe in the ‘Be Indian, Buy Indian’ mantra.”