I happened to be present (as a non-playing bystander) at the now legendary ‘no-limit’ Diwali card party in Delhi some years ago where an industrialist's son, halfway through the evening, had lost close to R1 crore to a prominent hotelier. They were playing with counters, not ready cash, and the hotelier insisted on payment before the party ended. The industrialist was woken up at 2 am, and a deal was worked out but it revealed the kind of excess that's crept into festive occasions, the gambling frenzy that blanks out reason and bank balance, and the ways that Indians have begun to flaunt their wealth. It’s also a pointer to the perils of one-upmanship, being socially trendy and trying to keep up with the high flyers. Playing cards at a table where the stakes average between R5 lakh and R10 lakh a hand is an indulgence not many can afford, but I am constantly surprised at the number of people who take the risk and wind up losing a fortune, all based on the desperate hope that their luck is just about to change. Brand new BMWs have changed hands because it didn’t.
It’s also to do with trending. Till a few years ago, those with deep pockets in their Burberry overcoats used to fly down to London and spend Diwali week gambling at the Palm Beach casino in Mayfair, a popular hangout for Indians, local and visiting. In terms of one-upmanship and snob value, its tough to beat gambling in pounds sterling and in the city’s toniest enclave. There was also the added advantage of switching to poker, the casino’s USP, and the all-you-can-eat buffet. That trend also had its reverse swing: where NRIs flew into India over Diwali just to be able to play cards, party with abandon, and enjoy the fireworks, literally and metaphorically. That trend continues but the London bug has run its course—quite opportune considering the rupee's freefall—and now Diwali celebrations are back home where they belong, seemingly unfettered by the joker in the pack: the economic downswing.
Any which way you look at it, Diwali was always destined to be about flash and cash, almost as if given the blessing of a higher being. The five-day Diwali period starts with Dhanteras. Dhan, of course, means wealth and it’s a day when worship is about prosperity. It’s also the day when the business community customarily splurges on