In certain homes, the arrival of the doda barfi treacle tart made by Manish Mehrotra from the tony restaurant Indian Accent indicates the arrival of Deepavali. It’s a special fusion treat dreamt up by the restaurant’s culinary director.
But eatables are no longer the stars of the Deepavali hampers. With everyone becoming more fitness-conscious, the Deepavali hamper has now become a showcase of everything organic. In keeping with the changing definition of wealth, conscious consumption has replaced conspicuous consumption. As senior publicist Neeta Raheja says: “Eatables are out, the earth is in; greed is out, green is in; bling is out, bespoke is in.” Gifting lists are becoming shorter, though the gifts themselves may well be more expensive.
The idea is to stand out, and gift something with meaning, whether it is the old favourite in Delhi, diyas made by students of the Blind School; artisanal products made by women’s self-help groups; or this season’s star startup, SilaiWali, which makes stuffed animal toys, dolls, bag charms. Aggregator brands, such as Amala Earth, provide eco-friendly design gift hampers according to one’s budget.
In clothing and decor, people want to help craft clusters. But the apparent simplicity should not be confused with being cheap. Made-in-India luxury, whether it Forest Essentials, home decor from Jaipur Rugs or Heirloom Naga, is expensive. The idea is for the giver and recipient to understand the significance of the product and appreciate the values associated with it.
There’s a growing awareness of the importance of supporting small businesses, driving demand for locally sourced and artisanal products. Sustainability has taken centrestage.
Every year brings a new set of brands to light. If it was TWG tea a few years ago, now it is Blue Tokai or Sleepy Owl coffee. If it was millets last year, it is wild rajma this year.
Some Made-in-India brands have retained prime spots. Nappa Dori bags, Ikai Asai tableware, Ikkis’ playful copperware, Khoya sweets, and Good Earth’s cushions remain perennial favourites, with their Deepavali buyers being a select mix of city socialites, academics and expatriates. They reflect the new India, mixing tradition with a 21st-century twist.
But Deepavali is a sobering time for many people as well, an index of their position in the city hierarchy. It is best measured by gifts sent by some of India’s biggest celebrities—sometimes, it is the size of the Pichwai painting, and at other times, it is the quality of the Radha Krishna marble frames. The smaller and less valuable it is, the lower you have slipped in the eyes of the celebrity. Ditto with hotel hampers, the worth of which can range from `3,500 to more than `25 lakh, depending on the constituent elements.
The typical elements of a hamper worth `25 lakh? A five-night stay at a luxury hotel, an Apple MacBook Air, the latest Apple iPhone, third-generation Apple air pods, Stefano Ricci tie, Michael Kors handbag and watch, Apple Watch 8 Ultra, Tumi men’s wallet, Mont Blanc cardholder, Mont Blanc pen, Alexa Echo Show HD screen, Bose Wireless Bluetooth speaker, Bvlgari fragrance, pashmina stole, cufflinks, patent cigar ashtray, Davidoff cigar collection, scented candles, designer jewellery box, silver-plated Lord Ganesha idol, silver-plated puja thali, black truffles, Himalayan wild honey, single-estate tea, organic spices, mukhwas, handcrafted chocolates, homemade Indian sweets, and Tumi trolley bag. Hotels have various kinds of hampers. Shangri-La Eros New Delhi, for instance, has the Diwali Bliss Box, Divine Delights Hamper, Couples’ Spa Indulgence, Symphony of Sweets, Royal Indulgence, Shangastic Casket, and more.
This is the first year after Covid where Deepavali is being celebrated with fervour rather than fear. People have settled down to their new levels of earning, even if they are lower than before Covid struck. There is less uncertainty in the air. Car and jewellery sales have gone up by 10 per cent compared to last year.
The digital realm is also playing a pivotal role, facilitating virtual gifting experiences, online subscriptions, and e-gift cards, bridging distances and nurturing connections. The latest PlayStation 5, VR headset, Bluetooth speakers and Apple products are popular with the young and restless.
There’s also a discernible shift towards health and well-being, resulting in a surge of gifts centred around fitness, wellness, and self-care products, such as Medanta’s ‘Sehat ka Shagun’ that starts at `1,100 for a silver health check-up on 42 parameters, including doctor’s consultation.
This Deepavali, people are looking for innovation and quality. People are weary of gifting the usual sweets and dry fruits and are looking for new ideas. “They are a little tired of giving and receiving a hamper or a basket which is none other than the habitual grocery items packed as a gift,” says Kazem Samandari, executive chairman, L’Opéra, the bakery and teahouse chain. As far as L’Opéra is concerned, he says, there is a move towards higher value and more sophisticated and exclusive gifts.
The sophistication in gifting is a far cry from the early days of liberalisation in India, where a handful of corporates kept exhaustive dossiers on senior government officials and key politicians, listing their strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses were exploited, and gifts ranged from cash to management quota shares to a child’s education at a foreign university. A former executive with one such corporation recalls the existence of an office in the capital dedicated entirely to liaison officials whose job it was to know who would like what every Deepavali.
The Deepavali gifting map is a smart indicator of the new establishment, which is an intricate mix of politicians, industrialists, bureaucrats, and a handful of media owners. The value of the gift you get is proportional to the value you provide. At a personal level, the more intricate the gift is, the more special the relationship. In the festival of lights, the more sustainable, artisanal and experiential your gift is, the more you’re likely to be memorable.