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Big fat festival hamper

Dec 7, 2012 :

NEW AGE GIFTING

With Italian crystal Ganeshas and Chinese diyas now being the new accessories for the big fat Indian festival hamper, our gifting is going global, glitzier and gaudier, opines Chetna Keer.

Festival expressionism in these times of keeping up with the eco-friendly drones and other politically correct crusade clones can be quite a challenge, literal as well as figurative, for those aspiring to or pretending to have a blast.

For, if you go gushing that you had a blast on Diwali, you are less likely to invoke the blessings of the divine non-Earth residents you appeased through the fully loaded festival piety and gaiety, and more likely to invoke the curse of the resident Earth warriors.


And the risk is compounded by the fact that these festive season eco-saviours come camouflaged, in the shape of your newly moved-in neighbour who keeps a count of the cracker cartons you consigned to the common bin, the NGO activist living down the lane or even the student group you’ve added as a friend on Facebook.

In the course of exchanging festival pleasantries and cyber conversations, an unsuspecting you may be walking into an etymological trap laid out by the eco-baiters around you. Before you even know it, you may have earned yourself carbon dis-credit, for having splurged on pollution-propagating rockets.

Or, if your celebrations indeed did curtail on crackers and you’re spared the frowns of the champions of the Earth, you may face no dearth of the ire invoked from the custodians of English and of words’ worth: If your festivities were cracker-free, how on Earth can you say you had a blast!

Faulty festival expressionism can thus spell a sticky situation either ways, literally as well as figuratively. So, better be safe than sorry before splashing a status update on the social media that states: What a blast we had on Diwali or New Year.

Just as festival expressionism decrees that status updates have to be suited to these socially aware times, so does festival exhibitionism entail that gifting adapts to the present and isn’t caught in a time warp, or rather time ‘wrap’.

The challenge for present-day gifting lies as much in what goes insidethe wrapping as in what goes into the outside dressing. As far as the presentation of the present goes, in this eco-friendly era, it can signal a war between the purists and the planet saviours.

The planet warriors come riding the refrain of recycling wrapping paper, whilst the purists propagate the chant that just as clothes maketh a man, brand new wrapping maketh the gift.

More often than not, it’s the purists who win hands down, as in ripping open a gift and consigning its wrapping to the waste paper bin their hands move faster than the planet saviours plunging to salvage the recyclable paper skin from a death due to crushing.

That couture covering is spelling the death of the good old simply wrapped gift dabba is evident from the fact that our designer Diwali gifts come dressed in wrapping so stylised that they become souvenirs in themselves.

The packaging paraphernalia — pret paper bags, bio-degradable hampers, recyclable baskets and customised covering — are like the eyeball-enticing promos and trailers for the 100-crore Bollywood blockbusters that our festivals now resemble.

As for those gifting baskets that can be recycled, the only risk you run is that they often land up at their place of origin. How often it is that the dainty designer basket you saved from the previous festival season gets recycled the next time (with new contents, of course) to that very cousin or colleague from whence it came.

Coming to what goes inside the wrapping, it’s the contents of the Big Fat Indian Festival Hamper that symbolise most the significant shift in times and tastes. Mounted and marketed by a manic media blitzkrieg and celebrity endorsement overload, the festival exhibitionism, driven by rapidly sliced collages of consumerism, spurs a virtual scramble between the saviours, savers, spenders and snobs.

In the marketing overdrive that sees the emblems of conspicuous consumption constantly bombarding the collective psyche every festive season and for every reason, it’s quite a challenge to be a saver or even saviour of the planet. For, every commercial or catchphrase staring at you or ensnaring you from glossy pages or blinking small screens propel you to turn a festival shopaholic, or better still, shopaholic with snob value.

Aspiring to any downsizing of the pomp and pageantry that our festivals have become? Well, these aspirations may be partially articulated in advertisements ruling the air waves in the festive season but only to woo you towards more luxe labels in the name of the spirit of revelry and rejoicing. You may as well perish the thought. And cherish the consumerist onslaught.

Picture this. A hubby brings home an exquisite jewelry set, only to tell the wife that it belongs not to him, but to his friend who’s gifting it to his wife. Though the wife secretly covets the jewels, she sighs resignedly that they have to stick to their resolve not to splurge on expensive stuff this festive season, only to be told by her better-half that the jewels are indeed for her. So much for resolves of thrift in the season of hard-selling the festive gift.

So, all ye mortals who may be grappling with the moral dilemma of to splurge or not to splurge on festive exhibitionism or market-driven consumerism, there’s Oscar Wilde being invoked for you in advertising scripts whose sub-texts spell out his sentiment: Resist anything but temptation.

The Wilde-sque wisdom is indeed the sub text driving most advertising storyboards bombarding the consumer psyche at the peak of festival shopping. From chocolates to cars, all commercials are geared towards further weakening any feeble resolve you may have made to celebrate a downsized Diwali, curtailed Christmas or nano-sized New Year.

From luxury on four wheels to irresistible iPad deals, commercials make sure the consumers are spoilt for choice. Even if your car doesn’t need an upgrade or you don’t really need a second car, you’ll be cajoled to do a rethink, and how.

A young boy is shown looking for a lift in the back of beyond, where there are scant signs of civilisation, leave alone transport. And there, on the scene zips in a car, just in time to ferry the lad to his destination in time for Diwali. The tagline that can trigger temptation in many a feeble heart and weaken many a thrift-swearing resolve trills: India comes home in a Maruti.

There drives out any pledge to put festive spending on pause mode.
Take the drive to overtake the good old traditional mithai as the piece de resistance of gifting.

Just as the global brands like Mercedes, Audis & Co are fast overtaking our Marutis and Nanos on the roads, the chocolates and cookies from Belgian brands and Parisian patisseries are speedily sidelining the humble halwais’ mithai as the gifting inclinations of India Discerning come wrapped increasingly in imported insignias.

Cashing in on and even catalysing this craze for chocolates over conventional khoya concoctions are a clutch of commercials. “Iss Diwali aap kise khush karenge?”goes the tagline for a temptation of the chocolaty kind that has redefined the traditional obsession with mithai.

Then there’s a commercial showing a sister eyeing the pile of gifts her brother has got for her. Her face scarcely lights up at that profusion of presents... until there is ripped open the box of her favourite chocolates that come riding on that popular practice of pandering to the sweet tooth every season, for every reason, be it festival time, day-to-day life, post meals, etc: “Kuchh meetha ho jaye!”

That’s the new anthem making chocolates synonymous with festival sweets and a symbol of celebrations in place of the barfi and besan ladoos. What sweeter revenge on the conventional confectionaries than this.

Ah, and not to forget the media-mounted festival activism aimed apparently at saving the unsuspecting consumer from the faux goodies, adulterated khoya and all things impure. Whatever little slice of the festival pie the poor mithai might have been trying to retain has now been threatened by the poor mithai’s even poorer public relations (PR) in the face of the anti-khoya sloganeering staged on the small screen as part of the save-the-consumer scripts and storyboards.

So, if the humble ‘halwai ki mithai’ is an endangered species on the festival gifting menu today, it may be some sweet revenge by the chocolate mafia and it may not be too off the mark to suspect a foreign hand that prefers that the imported Toblerones or Ferrero Rochers to be served to desi taste-buds in place of the khoya-rich kaju barfi, the rosogullas or even the reinvented hybrids from the halwai stable, the gulkand or mewa chocolates.

The Big Fat Indian Festival Hamper thus has as much a slice of India as of Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, America and other global gate-crashers into our gifting party. So, Italian olives and sauces, Belgian sea-shell chocolates, French wines, Swarovski crystal Ganeshas and what not make Diwali more a festival of foreign delights than a festival of lights.

The customised cognac, the personalised Satori Merlot Malbec packaged with playing cards or the hand-blown glass Ganapatis from France make up the opulent or overseas face of the festival hamper, which has indigenous insignias — Nashik wines, reinvented Gujarati namkeens, and Bengali sweets — vying to give gifting an Indian flavour.

Foreign hand


The global gate-crashing into Incredible India’s festival consumerism is not confined to the gifting, but also extends to the glitter. The foreign hand now defines how decorative the designer Diwali or the couture Christmas looks.

The festival of lights on Indian soil comes illuminated with lighting made from Chinese toil. The Chinese colonisation of our festival consumer-scape has not spared even the good ol’ diya, the earthen lamp that is the indigenous emblem of our festival of lights, symbolising the spreading of light and the dispelling of the darkness of evil, ignorance, etc.

Though Illuminated India has for quite some time now owed its festival night glitter and glow to made-in-China lighting inflow — piped lights, pineapple-shaped lights and what not — the desi diya had largely been spared this Chinese competition.

Alas, not anymore. Ask the neighbourhood nukkad shops for some lighting with a difference. Pronto, they proffer electric lights that are shaped like diyas and look slick, minus all the hassle of arranging oil and wick. And it’s Advantage China, for its light keeps Illuminated India glowing the entire night.

India’s festivals now thus come dressed in decorations driving on the new bilateral catchphrase: Hindi Chini Buy Buy.

If an advance in technology and tastes is driving the designer festivals, the span of the celebrations has spread to make it a festival in advance, or an advanced festival.
There was a time when the household would start buzzing with visitors a day or two in advance, but the main visiting and gifting was kept for D-day.

Ah, but now thanks to the traffic snarls, road rage and with parking woes coming of age, be ready  to greet your first festival gift not a day in advance, but a week in advance.

Which means that on D-day, you may actually not get many a visitor, save a stray neighbour or brave-heart of a colleague who risked road rage to reach you, and you may end up twiddling your thumbs wondering whom to serve all those goodies that are ritually prepared on the day of the festival.

With festivities getting fast, furious and in fast forward mode, a further switching of gears could see your doorbell ringing a month in advance with your first Diwali or Christmas guest or gift. That would make it an ‘advanced’ festival as much as a Christmas or New Year ‘in advance’.

Much like the coming of the Indian Grand Prix, our festivals too have arrived in the fast lane.

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