Bengaluru/Kolkata: From a retailer’s perspective, local mom-and-pop store owners in market areas have seen a fall in festival spending while e-commerce companies and other newer establishments attract more business through sales, promotional offers and, of course, the comfort of home delivery.
“These days, our celebrations and purchases are based on convenience. We shop online, whether on Snapdeal or Flipkart or Amazon, only because we don’t have the time to actually go to shops. We still try to buy something new but, again, if we don’t have the time to, we probably won’t. I’m here today with my family only because we had to attend a wedding close by,” says Pavithra Rajagopalan, a shopper at one of Bengaluru’s older marketplaces in Jayanagar, a popular festival shopping destination among locals.
Those in urban areas also tend to spend less on buying items related to the actual rituals or pooja. “Today’s shoppers will only buy one or two fruits and probably only a couple of different varieties. In the older days, when fruits and vegetables cost less, the average customer would buy nearly every variety of fruit we had,” recalls Srinivasraju Krishnappa, a 66-year-old fruit-seller, who has been plying his trade in Jayanagar for the past 40 years.
Many young urban Indians today prefer spending money on getting the house ready for parties. For instance, the varieties of fruits placed as an offering during the pooja does not matter as much as the types of sweets on offer for guests or decorative lights on display. They also invest time and money in coming up with themes for décor and food if they are planning to host parties at home.
Like 34-year-old Azad Mallick, who works as a cleaner and sometimes doubles up as an electrician in Kolkata, has a budget for Durga Puja of over Rs10,000 towards purchase of new clothes, home furnishings and other household items. Unlike before, eating out during these festivals is also a new trend in the Mallick family.
But local marketplaces do not benefit much from sales of decorative items because of the explosion in the number of retailers, brick-and-mortar and online, catering to festive needs.
“These days business has dropped quite a bit during festivals. It’s not that people aren’t celebrating. There are lots of shops in all areas today. Earlier, for instance, the shopping complex here in Jayanagar 4th block used to be the one-stop place for four villages. But today you can get it in many other shops in many other locations. We also have competition from online stores, who deliver products right at your doorstep,” says Jayaprakash, a local Bengaluru shopkeeper, who specializes in stocking festive items at Mahalakshmi Kumkum Stores.
People are also spending on either buying pre-cooked or packaged festive food or hiring a cook for the day, in contrast to earlier days when the household would get together and cook every single dish. For instance, fast food chains like Adyar Ananda Bhavan or A2B as the Chennai-based company is popularly known, stock up on traditional Tamil snacks like seedai for Krishna Janmashtami.
Making seedai—a savoury fried snack shaped into small round orbs—traditionally involved most family members of a Tamilian household coming together to help, with the elders keeping everyone engaged by narrating stories about Lord Krishna. It was a long-drawn, time-consuming process, with a lot of hard work involved, which could be also reasons why fewer people do it now.
Today websites like Sweet Karam Coffee, a Chennai-based initiative that sells authentic Tamil Brahmin fare, provide the scope for outsourcing that entire home-cooking process.
“I don’t feel that connection anymore. What we see today is mostly an external celebration. People spend a lot more. We used to buy new clothes too but generally weren’t able to spend too much when I was young. It was more about the celebration with family and relatives. It wasn’t a nuclear family going to the mall (during those days),” says Sister Saritha Joseph, who hails from Kerala.
For 19-year-old Kolkata student Abhishek Ghosh, Durga Puja means pandal hopping, going out with friends and eating out. “I’m a foodie and I eat out all four-five days, either with friends or family,” he says, adding that he sometimes spends on chips and chocolates. Not too brand-conscious, he buys most of his clothes from local markets.
But the change also is that urban Indians celebrate everything, including Western holidays and traditions like Halloween.
“In Bangalore, people celebrate almost all festivals. Earlier certain festivals were restricted to only certain communities. But in this city that restriction isn’t there anymore,” says shopper Rajagopalan.