Barely 48 hours before the biggest festival on the Hindu calendar, the glitter and sounds of Diwali are virtually missing in Mumbai thanks to the spiralling prices, tumbling stock markets and fears of lay-offs.
Most shopping malls and plazas in the city, as also the friendly neighbourhood mithaiwala (confectioner), though decked up for the occasion, are waiting for the elusive customers.
Diwali appears grim, dark and silent even though it coincides with a long weekend. The celebrations have yet to pick up.
Few people have bothered to put up the traditional Diwali lights or lanterns and the popular earthen lamps have no takers.
Even the evenings are relatively silent around the city without the sounds of firecrackers - the zing has gone out of the fireworks whose prices have shot up between 40-60 percent as compared to last year due to shortage of labour.
"Usually, a week before Diwali, I complete 50 percent of the season's total sales. And a day before Diwali the sales skyrocket," said Rakeshbhai Shah, proprietor of Bhavnagri Mart, one of the oldest sweetmeat retailers in the northwest suburbs.
He estimates that at best, they may see just 50 percent of the expected sales.
The scenario is equally grim on the dry fruits front. For instance, the famed American Dry Fruit Stores has reported "just average" business.
"We had anticipated better sales than last year, but the business is only so-so," said the company director Dilip Thakkar.
Wholesaler-cum-retailer Mustafa Mevawala said that he had ordered huge quantities in anticipation of brisk sales, "but the Diwali season market is barely 25 percent this year".
Proprietor of M/s Afghan Dryfruits Mevawala said that there are hardly any corporate or bulk orders this year since most companies have adopted austerity measures.
"Though we are primarily into wholesale business, we have resorted to retail sales this year," said Mevawala, who will start calculating his losses only after next Sunday.
Fashion outlets have also been hard hit by the market crunch, with the sales dropping by as high as 50 percent on the eve of the season.
"This year, since Diwali falls at the end of the month, people have yet to receive their monthly salaries. Many companies have slashed Diwali bonuses, or linked them to performances. Without money in their hands, how can we expect sales," said Shailendra Singh, director of Blue Fashion Hub, a prestigious multi-brand retailer in Borivli.
The hub manager, Bhavik Gala, said that so far they have noticed a drop of over 20 percent in all categories of readymade clothes. "There is little likelihood of the sales going up, since the season will be over by next Friday," he explained.
The electronics and consumer durables markets have also taken a fair beating this year. Surprisingly, LCD televisions and home air-conditioners are doing better than microwaves, refrigerators and washing machines.
According to Samsung, Whirlpool and LG main distributor of Mumbai, Rajiv J. Vaghani, the overall drop in sales of consumer durables and electronics goods is up to 25 percent.
"LCDs and air-conditioners are moving faster only because of the attractive discounts offered by manufacturers and advertising blitzkrieg by the distributors," said Vaghani, director of the JP Electronics chain.
Probably, the only people who have a reason to cheer this season are the multiplexes with two mega-releases this week, and two more scheduled next week.
"The two new movies - 'Roadside Romoeo' and 'Heroes' - have been patronised well. With similar big releases like 'Golmaal Returns' and 'Fashion' next week, I feel that we should comfortably sail through," spokesman for Fame Cinemas Karan Sethi told IANS.
Mumbai housewife Shobha Parulekar summed up the market moods that have resulted in tightening of belts for all household budgets.
"We plan to make Diwali memorable for our two children this year. A set of new clothes, a few firecrackers and dinner in a good restaurant," said Shobha, a resident of Kandivli.