Aren’t you just about fed up with the absolute avalanche of advertising asking us to go forth this Diwali and buy, buy, buy? I know I am. I am fed up of being told that I should bring home a new sofa/fridge/car/television this ‘festive season’. I am fed up of being lectured about how the best way to ‘celebrate’ this special time is to buy some diamonds or invest in some gold jewellery. And I am fed up of the suggestion that the only way we can make the special people in our lives feel special is by breaking the bank and buying them some extravagant present.Yes, I know that this is the time that the Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in most Hindu homes – even those that are not particularly religious at other times of the year – and that the Goddess of Wealth is supposed to be welcomed with, well, a show of wealth. But seriously, what is it with all these exhortations to spend, spend, spend... and then spend just a little bit more?
Is that really what the spirit of Diwali has been reduced to in these materialistic times? Did the ‘festival of lights’ metamorphose into an ‘orgy of conspicuous consumption’ while we were busy shopping for gifts for the family? And is money really all it takes to celebrate the advent of the Lakshmi in our midst?
Well, it is certainly beginning to look like it. The markets are clogged with eager shoppers greedily picking their way through the shiny wares on display. The traffic moves at a snail’s pace because everybody and his uncle (and aunt and a gaggle of children) are out in their cars busy dropping off Diwali presents to all their near and dear ones. And everybody who is anybody has a veritable mountain of corporate hand-outs littering their dining table.
At one level, I guess the excitement is understandable. After all, Diwali comes around just once a year. And amidst all the diyas, the patakas, the phuljharis and the anaars, it is easy to get lost in the sheer headiness of it all. But as we scoff the chocolate barfis and kajus and badams and swear that we will go on a detox diet as soon as the last box of mithai has been polished off, do we ever stop to think about how those who don’t have our kind of disposable income are celebrating the festival? How do they cope with the ubiquitous message of conspicuous consumption when they can barely scrape together two meals a day? How do those who have no money to speak of welcome the Goddess of Wealth to their homes?
If these kinds of thoughts ever do rankle, then this Diwali make a pledge to do something about it. Ignore all those media messages asking you to re-do your homes, buy a new wardrobe, upgrade your car, splurge on some jewellery or whatever new gizmo there is in the market. Don’t order a huge hamper full of exotic goodies to give away to friends and family. Cancel that expensive dinner you were planning to host for your card-playing buddies. And do the environment a favour by not bursting any noisy, polluting crackers.I am not saying that you shouldn’t celebrate the festival with your loved ones. But do so with love and affection rather than just by mindless spending. Don’t bother with expensive, all-purpose gifts. Instead think of what each individual on your list would most enjoy. Is your cousin interested in cooking? Gift her some herbs – parsley, coriander, mint, sage, rosemary – growing in small pots that she can place on her kitchen ledge. Is your wife a proud hostess? Find her some hand-made aromatic candles that she can display proudly at her next dinner party. If putting that much thought into each gift seems daunting, then just stick to the tried-and-tested: earthenware diyas that can be used in the Diwali puja, and potted plants that can survive the seasons on the balcony.
Once you’ve bought all these ‘alternative’ gifts, make a quick estimate of how much money you have saved. Now, find some worthwhile cause to donate it to. It could be to an NGO you trust; the neighbourhood centre that educates underprivileged children; the blind school; a shelter for battered women; or even a temple that feeds the poor.
As for all those hampers of bakery products and confectionary littering your drawing room, pile them all into your car and head for the nearest orphanage or blind school. Set up a little counter and give away all the stuff to the children. Watch as they scoff it down with delight. That experience is worth more than any bit of jewellery you could possibly own. And the fact that you are able to enjoy it is true wealth.
So, this year instead of going forth and buying, buying, buying, make a pledge to go forth and spread some good cheer among those less fortunate. And on that note, Happy Diwali to all of you!
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, October 23
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