New Delhi, Aug. 2: The string of attachment between sister and brother may just have taken a mindless leap to becoming a string with attachments.
A rakhi was advertised this morning for Rs 50 lakh a piece. To look at that length of white gold encrusted with 500 diamonds was to be collared into wondering whether Raksha Bandhan had gone from a ritual of sibling affirmation to a rave of widespread ostentation.
Last heard, that excessive piece of studded metallurgy was still short of takers but the rakhi has recorded an unprecedented roll on the cash tills. Such that Archies, a new-age bauble chain, chose to go retro on its window-dressing this summer, replacing friendship bands with boxes of glittery kitsch.
They were pulling the remainders out this afternoon from a central Delhi outlet, but they are already placing orders for the coming year. “Tremendous product,” said salesman Rajesh Bhutani. “Rakhis have sold like nothing else, not even Christmas cards.”
He was too taken by profits to bother putting an analysis on it. Eventually, as he busied about supervising the faux gold-dust being swept off the shop-floor, he put out a gem of wisdom — “Our population is increasing, more rakhi buyers, good for us.”
But to more detached minds, there is more than mere Malthusian accretion to mounting conquests of the rakhi constituency. “We have an expanding middle class and it has a lot of money to spend on happy things,” says sociologist Andre Beteille. “It is much the same thing that is happening to phenomena like Valentine’s Day, which we see observed more and more vigorously and in more and more places.”
Today, Santa Claus is a harassed Samaritan, having to labour his gifts down every chimney, or drainpipe as the case is more likely to be in these parts. We have half a dozen, if not more, new year’s days — to each region or denomination its own from Bihu, to Pongal to Baisakhi to Onam to Diwali to what have you — but new year only becomes Happy New Year around the cusp of the Gregorian calendar year.
This is the all-embracing democracy of the Market, probably the most secular and pluralist, if also profitable, institution of our age.
It isn’t easy any more to procure a card simply wishing someone well. Who for? What for? Why? Where? When? Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Granny’s Day, Uncle’s Day, Friendship Day, Teacher’s Day. Of course, but that’s Palaeolithic. You are meant to find a card written to a third cousin getting out of hospital following complicated appendectomy. If you don’t, you’re probably in a trash shop.
It matters not quite that inflation is in spike, the markets are depressed and the future still a silver lining with a dark cloud attached to it.
The gloom serves as unlikely prod to make the most of “feel-good” moments, such as the one rakhi represents. No wonder, Raksha Bandhan is no longer about brother-sister ties alone. Hanging down, ceiling-to-floor, of a “Vaastu” store in the trendy Khan Market is a smorgasbord of craftily themed amulets — “good education rakhi” ,“good career rakhi”, “good business rakhi”, “good health rakhi”, “good karma rakhi”, “mental peace rakhi”, even a delectably cheeky “good girlfriend rakhi”.
Pay, and panacea has adorned your wrist. It’s possible to see through the game, but consumer sentiment is playing ball.
To another sociologist, though, the proliferation of rakhis is not merely about market cunning, it’s also about using commerce as vehicle for religious propaganda.
“The way rakhi, in particular, has spread south and east from north India is indicative of efforts to give religious festivals a pan-Indian look. Cinema and television serials are also part of the strategies by which Hinduism is sought to be given almost Semitic standardisation,” says sociologist Ashis Nandy. “Festivals like Dhanteras were unheard of in Calcutta but now they have become almost intrinsic to Mahalaya and Diwali rituals. These offer clues to how the market and mass media are being used to pan-Indianise what is only a north Indian identity.”
Kajol performs Karva Chauth in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and meets Shah Rukh Khan in the bargain. Next thing you know, Karva has exploded north Indian frontiers and become an all-India pandemic among some aspiring women.
Some identities, heartily, still come purged of mortal barriers of region, creed, language or caste. There still isn’t a notified day for mothers-in-law and no cards dedicated to them in the elaborately catalogued store shelves. Someone smart has probably divined they make a poor marketing proposition. But perhaps a thought to a “good mother-in-law rakhi” next season? That’ll be the mother of all strings of attachment.