What do you gift people who have everything they might possibly need? Jyotsana and Arjun Sharma weren’t sure. And so the couple has bought potted
basil plants in three varieties—lemon, camphor and tulsi—as Diwali gifts for friends and relatives. Over the coming week, they plan to deliver these personally.
Red, gold and a lot of green: Eight-month-old Amaraah lights up Arjun and Jyotsana’s Diwali festivities this year. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Forty-three-year-old Arjun is the director of New Delhi’s Select Citywalk mall and the CEO of Le Passage to India, a leading inbound tourism company. His wife Jyotsana acted in the 1992 movie Vishwatma, starring alongside the late Divya Bharti.
Their festive plans reflect the ongoing austerity debate in the country. But the Sharmas say it is more a practical choice than an ironic luxury statement. “We’re growing older and increasingly feel that extravagant gifting is pointless,” says Arjun.
Jyotsana, while cheerfully disagreeing with the growing older bit, agrees in sentiment. She testifies to that terrible phenomenon—gift recycling.
But one gift Jyotsana would never dream of passing on is an orchid that a friend gifted her several months ago. Caring for it has been a deeply engaging experience for her, which is why she decided to go with the green gifting idea. Win Greens, the herb store they’re sourcing their plants from, has a big selection of exotic and medicinal herbs. But the Sharmas picked basil for its strong sociological ties with India.
In what might appear to be a curious paradox, the family has done away with the concept of gifting each other for the last few years. “Instead, we make
cheques to the family foundation that funds assorted charities,” says Arjun. Diwali is likely to prompt more cheques, which would go to each member’s preferred charity. Arjun’s mother, a doctor, runs a charitable dispensary. Jyotsana funds two animal shelters and Arjun uses his share of funds to support Chintan, an NGO that works with around 180 child rag-pickers in Delhi as part of Project Arman. An annual highlight for the Sharmas is a party they throw for these children soon after Diwali in the park behind their Sunder Nagar residence. There’s cake, games and a lot of running around. Funds from the Inder Sharma Foundation, named after Arjun’s father, are also used for running a hospital, school and temple in the family’s native village, Lalowal, an hour’s drive from Amritsar.
Turning a new leaf: The couple plans to gift tulsi plants from Win Greens to friends and family. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
This Diwali has a special place in their festive repertoire—it is their eternally smiling daughter Amaraah’s first. Jyotsana has had the eight-month-old’s clothes specially tailored by a children’s ethnic wear designer to match with the outfit she plans to wear—a classic Sabyasachi ensemble in red and gold. Arjun seems confused when I ask him what he’s going to wear on Diwali. Jyotsana, evidently the fashionista, laughs. “Arjun likes designer wear but he never remembers what he shops for.” She has put together Arjun’s Diwali outfit this year: A slate-coloured zardozi kurta by Vijay Arora with a red Sabyasachi stole. When the family dons their festive wear for us, they look like quite the coordinated trio.
The family’s plans include some specifics: Jyotsana will buy the customary silver, with some jazz, from Episode. And Arjun is keen on a kansa (bell metal) dinner set from Good Earth.
Food for thought: Arjun will gift Sanjeev Sanyal’s The Indian Renaissance to his senior colleagues. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Other Diwali staples, such as pujas at home and in their office, are on the cards. Card playing, however, is not. Again, Arjun attributes that to “growing old”. “We might play a few rounds at my father’s place for tradition’s sake,” he adds.
The family gave up lighting fireworks several years ago because of the noise pollution but they do plan to light a few phuljaris (sparklers). The couple professes a love for authentic diya lighting rather than swanky electric string lights.
Tradition also calls for all-day family get-togethers. The Sharmas will spend a greater part of the day at their parents’ home, on the ground floor of the same house that they live in. A simple breakfast of aloo puri at an elder cousin’s place will mark the start of the day, followed by an incessant stream of visitors. Arjun plans to round up the day with mutton biryani and some bubbly. It’s what we’d call austerity topped with froth.