The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Goodwill gifts seal business bonds

Over the years, the Diwali festivities have undergone many a change in the city. The quintessential family affair of a few expatriate communities has slowly evolved into a mega annual event for every Calcuttan. Corporate practices have seeped into the customs, and the festival is no longer restricted to a handful. A process of acculturation and its association with the business of living has led to a metamorphosis of the festivities.

Old-timers are quick to recount the heydays at the Calcutta Stock Exchange (CSE), the Mecca of Indian capital market. Diwali was the most significant day on the calendar of people linked to Lyons’ Range. After performing puja at their respective offices, the bigwigs of the market — accompanied by their family members and staff — would assemble in the main hall of the CSE.

The Lakshmi Puja over, it was time for the all auspicious mahurat trading. In the presence of their family — ladies in their festive best, watching the action from the balcony — the stock-players would bid for fortune on Day One of Samvat.

“Since the mode of trading was ‘outcry’, we all knew each other. On Diwali, all of us took our family members to the Exchange, so it was more like a family gathering. Everyone was served loads of homemade laddoos. The juniors used to greet the elderly, who in turn blessed the younger lot by involving them in their work. Even institutional players like LIC and UTI were no exceptions and they traded with all the market participants,” recounts Ajit Day of Dayco Securities.

But Diwali doesn’t draw the crowds at the Exchange anymore. With the dip in transaction volume at the bourse with each passing day, the Diwali congregation at the CSE has also thinned over the past five years. “We now trade electronically and people hardly know each other. The human interface doesn’t exist anymore. After performing puja at their offices and doing some customary trading over their terminals, people push off. They rarely visit the hall, which used to be the centre of all attraction,” adds Dey, a stockbroker, who has been celebrating both Diwali and Kali Puja at his office for the past 40 years.

Many believe that along with the shift in the epicentre of the Diwali hustle-bustle, the city has also seen a slew of experiments to add colour to the festival of lights. Clay diyas have given way to designer candles and laddus lag behind chocolates and dry fruits.

The modern times have redefined rules for the autumn festival in the city. Expensive gift items have become a part and parcel of reaching out to people. The customary gambling with cards on Diwali night starts a fortnight before the festival and stretches well beyond the crackers and the camaraderie.

“The stock market — the traditional hot spot on Diwali — is sliding towards a silent death and you cannot expect to find the younger generation out there. People are focused these days and prefer spending quality time, which can benefit their business,” says Sandeep Bhutoria, a young entrepreneur.

Many see the sudden spurt in exchanging lavish gifts — a phenomenon as recent as two to three years — as the latest way of business bonding.

“Earlier, Diwali meant boxes full of sweets. But these days, people here spend lakhs on gift items. And it’s not just the nature of the gifts, even the packaging is important for making a mark,” adds Bhutoria.

Another new trend is the card party, a huge hit with the younger crowd. These gatherings are mostly organised in hotels, and people flock there to try their luck. Lakhs change hands as everything else takes a backseat and the card players behind closed doors pit their year’s fortunes on the kings and queens.

Fashion designer Seema Agarwal explains these developments — from food and fun avenues to clothes and customs — as “efforts” by the younger lot to be “trendy”. She fails to reconcile her childhood Diwali experiences with that of her kids.

The only common thread remains the religious rituals. “The traditional sweets are replaced by puddings, pastries and dry fruits. Some people even serve Mexican and Italian dishes. Even rangolis look different these days,” mentions Agarwal.

With the shift in pleasure pursuits the palate too has changed. Ask Nawal Joshi of Gangaur. “The tastes and preferences have changed, leading to a decline in sales of traditional sweets and a spurt in demands for special substitutes during Diwali. The young generation is health conscious and they steer clear of sweets. The poor state of affairs in the stock market is another factor, which has hurt us. How can you expect cash strapped people sending sweets to others'” he asks.

Though sweets may be a casualty, the gift graph is clearly on the rise. After all, it’s the spirit of sharing to show you care that counts.

Industrialist Harsh Neotia links the change to the “creative urge” among people to do things in a different way. The change for him is nothing but an “evolution”, where people have learnt to be “efficient”.

The most audible change of course is in the clampdown on crackers. And while the silence is a relief to many, for the young and the restless, it’s robbed the festival of sound and light of a vital element.

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