Diwali With A Difference: A time of hope and new beginnings

November 8, 2020 7:00 AM

This Diwali is not just a festival to celebrate, it is also a time for renewed hope for a brighter future, as people across age groups and sections of society take stock of their lives after months of lockdown and a raging pandemic

Every year, Diwali for her means extensive shopping and visiting relatives and friends to exchange gifts, rounding off with a small puja and lavish food.Every year, Diwali for her means extensive shopping and visiting relatives and friends to exchange gifts, rounding off with a small puja and lavish food.

Anjali Sharma
The 12-year-old will miss past years’ festivities, but her plans this Diwali are not in any way small
Twelve-year-old Anjali Sharma has come to terms with a Diwali that is not going to be a big bang affair this year. After almost eight months of living under the cloud of a pandemic, the resident of Delhi is hoping to make the most of the festival under the restricted conditions.

What she will miss the most is the annual Diwali party held in her housing complex, where she and her friends put up a small cultural programme. A keen dancer, she participated in a group dance as well as gave a solo performance last year. Her little sister, five-year-old Jivika Sharma, breaks out in the song she sang last Diwali as the children reminiscence the party.

Ayi Diwali khushion wali
Kheer layi kishmish wali
This year, the children plan to record their performances and stream them on social media and chat groups. Visiting their uncle, where they burst crackers, is ruled out. So is eating out. Eight-year-old Arnav Singh chips in with his idea of making a small tent in the garden and having a party of their own. His sister 12-year-old Aditi starts planning the menu. Her mother will make pasta, Anjali’s will contribute with chips and soft drinks. The kids run out, done with the ‘interview’, as they start firming plans for their own Diwali party.
Ivinder Gill

Bharti Sarkar
For the 28-year-old domestic help with a feminist streak, Diwali is a season of hope in more ways than one
With a new roof over her head and a new mobile phone gifted by one of her employers, this Diwali is a season of many mends for 28-year-old Bharti Sarkar. Her errant husband, who abandoned her and her two sons last year to return to his village near Kolkata, is back and has found two jobs—cleaning cars and as a plumber.

Working as a domestic help in four houses, where she cleans and cooks, Sarkar is looking forward to celebrating Diwali in her new house. Fed up with the jibes of her in-laws, she recently moved to new premises, where she is delighted she doesn’t have to climb two floors to fetch a bucket of water. A tap is installed on the floor she lives on.

Living off her savings the past months during the lockdown, when she did not have any work and only one of her employers paid her salary, things are decidedly better on the financial front now. She has also saved money by shifting her nine-year-old son to a government school. “He is only attending online classes. He can do that in a public school,” she says. As she and her husband work throughout the day, she is thinking of opening a separate bank account to save money and repay the debts of her husband.
Ivinder Gill

Anju Chopra
The Delhi-based homemaker will have a quiet Diwali this year and plans to order gifts for relatives online
For Delhi-based homemaker Anju Chopra, 53, the lockdown announced in March didn’t signify much upheaval in her daily routine as she was always at home and would still be indoors. Or so she thought.

When her family members did not leave for office and stayed put in different corners of the house, working from home, and the maid also was not allowed to enter the residential complex, the magnitude of the situation hit her.
Cleaning and cooking with her two sons and husband at home became tiresome. Her family would pitch in at times, but more often than not, Anju had to take the burden of all housework upon herself.

However, in the absence of eating out, the family had fun cooking their favourite foods together. From momos, golgappas to samosas, they treated themselves at home, and it brought them closer. “This was a one-of-a-kind experience as we had never really cooked together in the past. We googled and experimented with recipes on Sundays,” Anju recalls. “Though my sons faced salary cuts, our home budget was not strained, as we saved on travelling expenses, shopping and eating out. In fact, I managed to save more money than usual,” she says.

Every year, Diwali for her means extensive shopping and visiting relatives and friends to exchange gifts, rounding off with a small puja and lavish food. This year, she plans to order the gifts online and have them delivered to her relatives to avoid crowded markets and maintain social distancing. “It doesn’t feel right to celebrate with so many people suffering, but we will perform a puja and spend the day together,” she says.
Reya Mehrotra

Sunil Agarwal
Earnings drastically down, Bengaluru sweetshop owner is cutting corners this Diwali
For anyone in the food business, the year has been a damp squib. Bengaluru-based Sunil Agarwal, owner of Kartik’s Mithai in Indiranagar, is no different. His business was completely shut from mid-March till April during the lockdown. In May and June, business was only 25-30% of the usual; it went up to 40% in July and August because of some festivals. But sales were again hit in September, the 51-year-old shares. “This year, any sweet shop in the city expects only about 60% of the previous year’s festive season business. We have got some corporate orders and have seen that both the size of packets and quantity distributed have reduced drastically,” he says. Most of his customer base is corporate this year, as people are unsure of consuming outside food.

“We are not very enthusiastic on the business front. A number of my staff members have gone back to their hometowns and we had to cut salaries based on different slabs. We are not sure if the coming months will be any better,” he says.

At home, too, the pandemic has meant strict social distancing. He has a 78-year-old mother and lives in a joint family with his wife and two children and his brother’s family. Because of his elderly mother, the family takes extra precautions in safety.

This Diwali will be a family affair only, and no outsiders or relatives will be invited. “The children and the women used to shop every year for new clothes, but there is no excitement this year,” he shares. With finances tight and no signs of business reviving anytime soon, he is cutting corners everywhere, including on Diwali celebrations.
Reya Mehrotra

Santosh Kumar Singh
Laid off, the 32-year-old will light diyas in his new home in the mountains away from the chaos of a city
Last year, 32-year-old Santosh Kumar Singh would have never thought his life would change so drastically in the next few months. A senior photo editor with Microsoft in Noida, he was among those laid off globally as roles were shifted to artificial intelligence in the company.

Having lived in Delhi since 14 years, the Bihar resident had trouble with the city’s high pollution levels. When his son was born last year, he developed breathing problems at just six months of age due to pollution. The infant had to be nebulised after air purifiers turned ineffective. The doctors suggested that the baby be moved to a place with cleaner air, but it was not possible for Santosh to move out of the city or take leave for long durations. So when he was fired, the Singhs took it as an opportunity to relocate. “Things happen for good,” he says. He chose Bhimtal in Uttarakhand and shifted there with his wife and 19-month-old son in October. “The cost of living is very low here and we have a few months’ savings to survive. My younger brother is supporting us financially for now,” he says.

An avid bird and wildlife lover, Singh plans to start wildlife photography soon. His wife Pooja Thakur will also start looking for a teaching job in Bhimtal.

He is hopeful that Diwali will mark new beginnings and something will work out for the good. “I never liked the sound of crackers as I love nature and want my son to love it too. We will light diyas and enjoy the crisp mountain air this Diwali,” he says.
Reya Mehrotra

Sanjay Paswan
With savings dried up, this rickshaw puller, working in the national capital, is staring at subdued festivities
Sanjay Paswan, 39, a resident of Samastipur in Bihar and working as a rickshaw puller in the national capital, will soon be leaving for his village to be with his family on Diwali. But unlike previous years, he will be going home literally ’empty handed’ this time.

“In previous years, I would spend Rs 5,000-Rs 8,000 to buy clothes and other knick-knacks for my family, especially my three children, but I haven’t bought anything so far. I am a bit nervous to face my family this time,” says Paswan, whose eldest son is studying in class X and the other two are in classes six and seven.

He would also send Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000 once in two months to his family, but in the past two months all he could send was Rs 5,000 since he returned to Delhi in June when the lockdown was eased. Before the lockdown, he could easily earn around Rs 15,000 per month.

But this isn’t the case any more. “I was in my village when the lockdown was imposed. I had gone home in January to participate in the Kawar Yatra. I decided to return to Delhi because my savings dried up and the stock of grains was diminishing fast,” says the migrant, who has studied till matric.

Paswan says he would have preferred to stay with his family if he had a job in his village, but even daily wage opportunities dried up and even if he got work, he was paid too little. “My return journey to Delhi by bus cost `1,700, though a train ticket costs around `500. Trains were not available, so I had to catch a bus to reach Delhi. Till I was able to earn again, free ration from the government and donations helped my family,” he says.
Things are still bad, though. “People are scared to sit on my rickshaw and rarely engage my services, bringing my earnings down,” he says.

However, he is now planning to take a loan from local lenders for the festival, which will be a subdued affair. “I will take my children to the village market and buy them clothes if I manage to borrow some money from the lender or relatives,” he says.
Vaishali Dar

Sakshi Mishra
The 23-year-old corp comm professional from Bengaluru regrets missing out on small things
Pay cuts and job losses have been common this year and Sakshi Mishra, a corporate communication professional from Bengaluru, had to bear the brunt as well. “The pandemic has cost a lot at the individual, as well as professional level,” says the 23-year-old. “I work in the real estate industry and my organisation decided to support the labourers, but this cost me a 20% cut in salary,” says Mishra, who began her career with this company a year back.
But she is thankful for not losing her job. “My friends from other organisations were asked to leave without any notice. I still have a job.”

But making both ends meet is difficult. “Managing rent, other costs, paying bills has become difficult. I have cut down my personal expenses, and there is no more online shopping. Initially when you start earning, you have a list of wishes, be it a lipstick or a high-end phone. I wanted to buy a new phone during the festive discounts. It is sad to compromise on such little wishes. Also, I won’t be able to donate to the needy. Nonetheless, I believe the situation will improve soon as the market is picking up gradually. Once there is an increase in the progression of cash in the market, everything will strengthen, especially profit and employer stability.”

Diwali in previous years was all about travelling with friends or shopping during festive sales, but all this is not happening now. “I remember last year I gave a surprise visit to my family in Kolkata and bought some extravagant gifts for Diwali. Early this year, as I moved into a studio apartment in Bengaluru, I had planned to invite my parents for Diwali, but that is not possible now,” she says.
Vaishali Dar

CEO corner

Deep Bajaj, Founder, Sirona Hygiene
Witnessing double-digit growth in his business, Bajaj will still have a low-key celebration
Deep Bajaj’s hygiene business has flourished during the past few months, with his company, Sirona Hygiene, a menstrual and intimate hygiene brand, coming up with several innovations since the pandemic struck.

“People are much more concerned about their overall hygiene, and our products are relatively apt given the present demand. We have witnessed a double-digit growth in our revenues and hope to continue the same success across our brands PeeBuddy, Sirona and BodyGuard in the future as well,” says Delhi-based Bajaj.

“Thanks to e-commerce, we are in a stronger position than we were before. The first 30 days of the lockdown were tough to crack as everything came to a standstill, but then with every passing day, some or the other door started opening and we survived. I know of many businesses that had to completely shut down and couldn’t recover,” he says.
A mix of work from home and work from office resulted in some disruptions as it was difficult to coordinate between various members and understand their limitations, he recalls. “We became highly efficient at working remotely and the team has worked tirelessly even in adversity,” says the 37-year-old founder.

With the festive season, Bajaj expects the demand and supply to increase. However, Diwali, like previous years, will be a no-cracker Diwali. “Overall sentiment isn’t the same as last Diwali, whether in corporate gifting or retail sale, but as we are an online-first brand, so we are not impacted much,” he says.

Personally, every year, Bajaj likes to spend Diwali playing cards and bonding with friends and family, but all that will be given a miss this year. “We will light diyas and be at home. All the fun won’t be possible due to social distancing, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. However, it is absolutely necessary to be positive and hopeful every day, especially around festivals,” he says.

His brand is committed to giving back to society and Bajaj personally does his bit too. “At Sirona, our pay-it-forward programmes for the under-privileged are funded by our product sale. We collaborate with different social groups and NGOs to empower lives.” On a personal front, Bajaj likes to feed and help the needy. “I visit the homeless, help them with basic essentials and feed the poor near my locality every week and not just on festivals, and this shall continue,” he says.
Vaishali Dar

Zorawar Kalra, MD, Massive Restaurants
Business is down, but Kalra hopes Diwali will be a turning point as restaurants open
The past few months haven’t been easy for Zorawar Kalra, MD of Massive Restaurants, which operates several restaurants across the country, including Farzi Café and Masala Library. The lockdown ensured his business was completely closed, and even now, with several restrictions still in place and people uncomfortable eating out, getting his business back on track is an uphill task.

However, he hopes Diwali and the new year are a turning point, as traditionally this is a time for good business. “What we faced was an existential crisis. We incurred big losses and earnings of several years were wiped out in months. But I am sure the industry will be able to weather the storm and thrive again.” He is already seeing a 20% increase in customers month-on-month and is hoping that ‘revenge consumption’ by people after months of closure will help tide over the crisis.

In these tough times, Kalra misses the guidance of his father, industry veteran Jiggs Kalra, the most. “The hardest thing has been to go through this alone,” he says.

The pandemic has changed things for him, both personally and professionally. “The lockdown taught me to enjoy time with my children, give more attention to my wife and focus on my hobbies. It taught me there’s more to life than work and you need to have more work and play balance.” Professionally, he had time to introspect and innovate. “We looked at our balance sheets and weeded out many inefficiencies, cutting unnecessary costs, making the business leaner and more efficient. The lockdown gave me time to reboot and think fresh about my business and my life.”
Being in the business of food, he was struck by the hunger he encountered during the lockdown, especially among migrants. Believing in the concept of langar, his company distributed over one lakh meals to the poor, and this is a takeaway from the pandemic he has enshrined permanently in his business philosophy. “We are in the business of food, and that is how we intend to give back, by feeding the hungry and ensuring a percentage of our profits go into helping the poor. This pandemic has taught us that,” he says.

He foresees a subdued Diwali this year, but will spend time with his family. “We will do our little traditions, give back to society and thank the powers that be to have blessed us,” he says.
Ivinder Gill

Sumit Ghosh, CEO & co-founder, Chingari
Crossing 30 million downloads with his app, Ghosh is having mixed emotions this Diwali
After the Indian government banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok, the time was apt for homegrown social app Chingari to step up as the best alternative for millions of Indians.

Crossing more than 30 million downloads, this made-in-India short-video sharing platform achieved the feat in a matter of three months, with content creators making a beeline for it. Founder Sumit Ghosh is beaming. “This year’s Diwali is unquestionably going to be a different one. On one hand, we were caught up in the pandemic, but on the other, Chingari’s success gave us reason to celebrate. Life has definitely changed for good for us despite a huge downfall in almost every sector. We are thankful for the call to go ‘vocal for local’. We launched the app in 2018 and saw the user base explode exponentially when TikTok was banned,” says Bengaluru-based Ghosh. The 34-year-old is presently on a hiring spree to tackle the increased workload. Apart from India, the app is steadily increasing its user base in the UAE, US, Kuwait, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam as well.

This Diwali, Ghosh will miss the fun of celebrating with friends and family. “I will also miss the fun of the Diwali party at office. Ironically, despite a good run at the professional front, personally we will be cooped up in our houses. There will be no socialising or dinner parties.”

He will compensate by volunteering with charity organisations. “Distributing food and essentials among the needy gives me a sense of satisfaction. Festivals are all about spreading happiness. Since this year comes with a mix of emotions, so why not spend some time doing good and hoping time will heal all,” he says.
Vaishali Dar

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