In Focus

This Diwali, the crowds are less but fervour as high!

By Manu Shrivastava

It’s that time of the year again…the festival of lights is just around the corner. Diwali celebrates the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and good over evil. The ‘celebrations’ may be dampened because of the physical restrictions but the ‘fervour’ is even higher as the months-long war against COVID-19 seems to have ebbed…for now. Mumbai’s markets, famous for Diwali shopping, are gradually warming up to the revellers, many of whom are seeing Diwali as a victory over COVID-19!

WARMING UP: Mumbai’s famous markets are gradually warming up to Diwali revellers

The Maharashtra Government’s recent appeal to citizens to avoid bursting firecrackers this Diwali as the pollution could cause breathing problems among COVID-19 patients, the BMC, in a welcome move, is set to place a ban on bursting firecrackers in public places.

Dr Parthiv Shah
“There should be a law to ban firecrackers for good,” feels Borivali-based Pulmonologist Dr Parthiv Shah who adds, “during the winters, the levels of pollution usually soar and with it, a rise in COPD, Asthma, Bronchitis cases and now the worsening of COVID-19 cases. The crackers only add to it and this move to prevent fireworks being burnt in public places is welcome. However, it should be a standard move through legislation and not a knee-jerk reaction as a precursor to a festival or event.”

South Mumbai’s Lohar Chawl, opposite Crawford Market, is a wholesale market and a shopper’s delight. The market is particularly famous for a variety of gift items, fancy lights and kandeels (decorative lanterns) and becomes a hub for shoppers during festivals like Diwali. “People would start shopping a month before Diwali…and a fortnight before the festive period starts, there would be no space to even set foot here. This year, however, the sales are lesser but my regular customers are still coming, so I am hopeful it won’t be that bad after all,” says shop-owner Faisal Shaikh who has been selling lights and kandeels for over two decades now.

Mumbai’s Diwali is incomplete without the mention of Mohammed Ali Road’s firecracker market and the more than 80-year-old Essabhai Fire Works. Owner Abdullah Ghia says, “Diwali is an Indian festival and people from all communities celebrate it.” Customer Mariam Khan agrees as she buys firecrackers for her five-year-old son Fizan, particularly his ‘pistol’ that he “carries in his pocket every day, during this period.”

COUNTDOWN: Diwali is synonymous with Mohammed Ali Road’s firecracker market

“The sales are lesser than last year but much higher than what we had expected this year given the COVID situation. Also, in Mumbai, sales increase as we get closer to Diwali,” says Mumbai and Thane District Fireworks Dealers' Welfare Association General Secretary, Minesh Mehta. On the imminent BMC ban on the lighting of firecrackers in public places in Mumbai, he says, “The move to uphold public health is a good one. Anyway, there isn’t a ban on firecrackers in toto, as wrongly perceived. It’s a ban on lighting firecrackers ‘in public places,’ which is a welcome one too. People mostly burst crackers in their compounds and within their own private societies,” maintains Mr Mehta.

GETTING SET: Minesh Mehta (left) and son Himanshu are nonplussed with the firecracker 'ban'

Bhuleshwar, one of the most famous markets for festival shopping that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket is gearing up for Diwali shoppers too. “I have been shopping here for Diwali puja all my life. This place has the most beautiful, decorative puja wares and at very affordable prices,” says Kandivali-based home-maker Sejal Desai. Sejal’s sister-in-law Mrunal Ghatge shops for jewellery and clothes for her family and swears by it. “I had to fight with my husband as he didn’t want me to travel this far for shopping. But I couldn’t have it any other way. It’s almost a festival tradition now!” quips Mrunal.

Families are venturing out of the safe confines of their homes to shop for Diwali. “This year, more than just a festival, Diwali is also a celebration of all the struggles that people had to go through in the last few months, during the lockdown. The festival has come just at the right time for us…to celebrate and take a breather before the daily drudgery of work begins again,” says Ghatkopar-based management consultant Kirti Sonawane who drove down all the way to Matunga to buy sweets and farsan from her favourite shop.

Matunga is warming up to the festivities, albeit slowly. “The business is very less…about 30 per cent of what it used to be at this time. It would have been higher had the local trains services been made available for all because now people are buying from their local shops,” says Matunga-based sweet shop-owner Ashok Gupta.

STRUGGLING: (From right) Ashok Gupta, Ashok Mishra and Rushabh Gupta wait for customers

Shop-owners are taking precautions to ensure their safety and that of the customers. “I make sure my workers wear masks throughout their shift. It’s important to make the customers feel safe and comfortable who are themselves taking a lot of precautions by wearing masks, carrying sanitisers, etc.,” maintains Dadar-based gift shop owner Lalit Patel who is pleasantly surprised with the surge in Diwali sales, this year, despite the COVID scare.

“How could we not shop for Diwali? My entire family was looking forward to this time of the year since we were ‘locked down’. It’s a family event as the extended family and all the cousins get together for shopping and celebrations!” feels Worli-based media student Sonal Thakur.

HOPEFUL: Shopkeepers in markets across Mumbai are hoping sales pick up towards Diwali

Even the flower market at Dadar is teeming with shoppers the past few days. The narrow lane flanked by multi-hued flowers and petals heaped on wooden baskets is a sight to behold. “I didn’t expect that despite the COVID-19 restrictions, people will still come out to shop, that too for flowers. They are buying flowers for home pujas, decoration even personal use,” exclaims Pardhi flower-seller Laxmi Pawar donning a gajra and a rose herself.

People may be cautious in stepping out of their homes, but the festival period is changing that. Mumbai is warming up to the festivities, slowly but steadily. Wearing multi-coloured masks, scarves or dupattas and big handbags on their shoulders, the women are thronging the markets again, to make this Diwali as ‘normal’ as possible for them and their families. The COVID-19 pandemic sure dampened the human spirit but Mumbaikars are changing that and what better occasion to do that, than Diwali!