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India Chimes For Local Artists, Shops This Diwali

With festivities around the corner, manufacture and sale of locally produced and eco-friendly products are getting a push.

India Chimes For Local Artists, Shops This Diwali
Representational Image | PTI
India Chimes For Local Artists, Shops This Diwali
outlookindia.com
2020-11-13T16:54:08+05:30

For Gabbar, 35, his spot on the streets of Shahberi, a local market near Noida, is sacred. He has maintained his loyalty to a 20 by 20m square of ground, where he religiously sprawls down a red mat as the day begins.

Diyas of varying composition – handcrafted, imbued with clay, or put together with wax – in all shapes and sizes are meticulously arranged in a neat line. Normally, it would enjoy attention from a cluster of people, standing or squatting around, inspecting the craftwork. But when the usual cluster reduced to a thin audience this year, Gabbar knew this Diwali is going to be anything but normal.

Bahut mandee hain, (the financial loss is significant),” he said, as he struggles to meet ends. His business, along with other independent artisans and local retailers, has received a pandemic-induced body blow.

The lockdown has been effective in curtailing visibility, appreciation, and the overall demand for local craftsmanship. Vendors and artisans like Gabbar are barnacled in an impossible situation -- stocks procured months in advance, to be sold during the bustling festival period, might be turned into economic debris. 

While the pandemic has dried up demand to an extent, indigenous and homegrown brands find a spotlight shining on them. Forces of the internet are attempting to sway the wind in their favour; samaritans on Twitter feeds and Instagram stories are promoting retailers and craftspeople in their locality.  Social awareness, ecological consciousness, and government push have renewed interest in local products ahead of Diwali.

Swati Tomar, a doctor in AIIMS Delhi, chose to buy diyas from a small pottery lane near Sarojini Nagar this year. “I wanted to help local stores in my neighbourhood,” she said. She usually does Diwali shopping from shops and other big markets, but this year she wanted to help vendor struggling during the lockdown. “Each one can help one!” she added.

She put up a post on Twitter with the diyas and his number so that people can directly place orders. She’s hoping this can help Rohan (the person she purchased from) and others.

Ajeet Singh, a resident of Delhi, was also prompted to make the switch this year. He bought diyas from neighbourhood vendors and urged his friends to do the same. “It makes no difference to us, but lights up their lives.”

According to a survey by Local Circles, a community social media platform, 66 per cent of consumers are expected to visit the local market for festive shopping instead of visiting the main markets in town, this Diwali. The survey recorded responses from over 50 cities in a bid to understand how people were planning to carry out shopping during the festive period with Covid-19 in the backdrop.

There is a growing clarion call to revive support and interest in local goods. People are being nudged to buy festival paraphernalia -- the likes of fairy lights, colourful hangings, lampshades, lanters, diyas -- from shops and artisans in their neighbourhood. 

The push to choose local outfits for meeting festive needs comes because of three reasons -- it will provide an economic cushion to artisans and neighbourhood retailers, it aligns with a growing pulse to be responsible and ecologically conscious, and curtails shopping trips to distant markets amid fears of Covid-19 spread. 

Moreover, several homegrown brands have also emerged during the pandemic, selling a kaleidoscopic collection of traditional and handcrafted decorations produced at home. These local businesses appeal to people owing to a personal touch and that “extra mile” they put in.

Purchasing handicrafts and locally crafted products have been a growing trend in the last few years. There is a consumer shift in purchasing handcrafted, traditional, and intricately-designed décor. Goods made of sustainable material, like bamboo candles and plant seed diyas, are attracting eco-conscious customers.

Shivangi Karnani, a resident of East Delhi, said they’ve been purchasing diyas from a neighbourhood retailer for the last few years. What started off with easy accessibility and cheap prices for quality products has grown into a social inclination to consciously pick these goods from nearby sellers, instead of going to markets or big shops. “It feels better,” she said.

This spirit was further bolstered when Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted people to go "vocal for local" this Diwali, as a part of the Ministry of Textile’s campaign this year. He asserted that buying local products will not only strengthen local manufacturing but will also brighten up Diwali of those who make these products and give a new boost to the economy, in a virtual inauguration ceremony three days ago.

“You are seeing today that along with vocal for local, the mantra of local for Diwali is resonating everywhere….Celebrating Diwali with local products will give a new boost to the economy. I would like to say to the people of Varanasi and all countrymen, promote 'local for Diwali' big time,” said the Prime Minister, adding that when every person buys local products with pride, talks about them, they help promote it.

Local artisans, indigenous brands, and neighbourhood retailers rely on melas and bustling markets to sell their products as the festive season ushers forth. Covid-19 has seen this change dramatically, as local melas were cancelled and people preferred to do their shopping online as the pandemic lingers. The cancellation of Sunder Nagar Mela and Blinds School Mela, two popular options that sell traditional crafts every year, has suggested a total hit in the annual income of retailers up to 40 to 50 per cent, according to a report by PTI.

Moreover, the convenience and variety of online shopping have chipped away at the demand for local and traditional products. Special sales on e-commerce websites like Amazon and Flipkart during the festival season attract eyeballs as well as pockets. This year itself, online shopping has risen by 89 per cent from last year, according to an online survey.  It inevitably adds to the stack of cards piling against local traders. 

Artisans and neighbourhood retailers often have side hustles like farming and other manufacturing activities to sustain them throughout the year. With a pandemic year drying out most of their revenue stream, a lot of hopes hinged on this festival season.

Gabbar, who is from Rajasthan, has a loha business there that keeps him economically afloat in the festival off-season. The financial losses this year have hit him hard, and he is anxious about what the winter gale holds for him.

While he isn’t expecting his fortune to change dramatically, he continues to show up at his usual spot. He is temporarily comforted by a marginal increase in sales – a minimal, he clarifies, but something. He’s hoping that calls for local shopping grow louder as the year draws to an end.

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