Diwali is around the corner. And while the festive feel might be somewhat lacking due to the coronavirus restrictions, the fervour is somewhat beginning to set in. People are slowly trying to get into prep mode and live up to the festival’s motto: Victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.
Mumbai markets are gradually warming up to the revellers, many of whom are seeing Diwali as a victory over COVID-19. South Mumbai’s Lohar Chawl is particularly famous for a variety of gift items, fancy lights and kandeels (decorative lanterns) and is a haven for discerning buyers 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 a foot here. This year, however, the sales are less, 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.
Bhuleshwar, one of the most famous markets for festival shopping that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, is gearing up for Diwali, too. It holds a special place in the hearts of families who have be shopping here for generations. The regular customers are not just the ones who live nearby, but those who travel from far away places. Take, for example, this Kandivali-based home-maker who is a regular visitor. “I have been shopping here for Diwali all my life. This place has the most beautiful, decorative puja wares for affordable prices,” says Sejal Desai.
Sejal’s sister-in-law, Mrunal Ghatge, shops for jewellery and clothes 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.
While the coronavirus scare still looms over our heads, Diwali is somewhat coming as a welcome relief for many. “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 all the way to Matunga to buy sweets and farsan from her favourite shop.
Slowly, but steadily, Matunga too is warming up to the festivities. “The business is 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.
We might be getting into shopping mode for Diwali, but safety comes first in COVID times. And, shop owners are taking precautions to ensure their safety and that of their 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 COVID-19 scare.
Adding to Patel’s sentiments, Worli-based media student Sonal Thakur adds, “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!”
Apart from gift items, clothes and food, Dadar’s flower market is also teeming with shoppers. 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.
Mumbai’s Diwali is incomplete without the mention of Mohammed Ali Road’s fire-cracker 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 fire-crackers for her five-year-old son Fizan, particularly his ‘pistol’ that he “carries in his pocket every day, during this period.”
“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.
The Maharashtra Government recently appeal to citizens to avoid bursting firecrackers this Diwali as the pollution could cause breathing problems adding to COVID-19 woes. And, the BMC, in a welcome move, is set to place a ban on bursting firecrackers in public.
“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,” Mehta maintains.
“There should be a law to ban firecrackers for good,” feels Pulmonologist Dr Parthiv Shah and 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 a legislation and not a knee-jerk reaction as a precursor to a festival or event.”
The COVID-19 pandemic sure dampened the human spirit, but Mumbaikars are changing that and what better occasion to do that, than Diwali!