After graduating last year, 22-year-old Kuber Jain landed a coveted internship at a South Delhi digital marketing company. After COVID-19 hit, he decided to give it up and come help his father with their two sweet shops which they’ve owned and operated for 25 years. Despite the constant lockdowns, Jain was positive that business would pick up once the festival season hit, but on Rakhi, the usual curtain raiser for the August to November festival hype in North India, things changed.
“We make assumptions about products we have to keep in stock for Diwali at Rakhi, as that signals the trends for sweets in demand. This year the demand was very less, regardless of the products and people were asking for packed products, scared of COVID-19,” Jain told Re:Set.
“We run a daily business. We make sweets everyday and sell them loosely or package ourselves and sell them everyday. For the first time ever, we had to keep more packed gift hampers than sweets,” he added.
Packed hampers are a low margin business when compared to sweets, he explained. And even margins on sweets have reduced, due to added sanitization costs. Making a box for 20 rasgullas now costs ₹45, compared to ₹20 pre-COVID. And with reduced margins and demand for packaged sweets, they haven’t hired the usual extra help they get for Diwali.
“It’s been difficult. Being a business family, we always talk about our work every night. And my father gets emotional. Everyone is feeling down,” he said. “Not only are we not doing as well, but we’re also worried about our employees. Sweet makers come from Madhya Pradesh and Bengal and they too are worried about losing their jobs, and their family getting the coronavirus back home.”
“They can’t be with their family because there is so little work, and here too now, there isn’t much money to be made compared to usual years,” he added.
The fear of missing out
In a normal year, the sinking feeling often comes after the festivals are finished. This phenomenon is called, “post-festival withdrawal syndrome,” where especially after major festivals like Diwali, “people face immense disappointment, depression and a sense of loss within themselves, with the ending of the festival.”
But with COVID-19 affecting business and relationships alike, people are seeing additional stress even before the festival season begins.
26-year-old Shibani Shukla has spent her last few Diwalis playing poker with her friends, attending prayers at home, and sometimes having lunch with her family in Mumbai. This year, she’s in the United Kingdom where she’s studying data science. It’s her first year away from home and she’ll be in her apartment by herself as the U.K. has gone into another lockdown to mitigate rising COVID-19 cases.
“I could’ve gone to my cousin’s home here, but the lockdown has made that impossible too,” Shukla told Re:Set. “I’ve been missing everyone. Especially when we were all together. Here, I’ll just be doing nothing and feeling lots of FOMO.”
Her plan for Diwali is now to have a video call with her family and try to play poker virtually with her friends. Though she doesn’t know how efficiently that will pan out via the internet while all her loved ones are in one room together.
A 2006 study by the American Psychological Association, titled, “Holiday Stress,” found that 38% felt an increased level of stress during the end of the year festival season, and up to 26% of people reported feeling lonely.
According to Delhi-based counseling psychologist Devika Kapoor, no matter how advanced technology gets, the physical distance is too much to overcome.
“People are away from their places of familiarity. They’re away from environments of togetherness when they were growing up. With everyone living elsewhere, that connection is lost,” Kapoor said. “People get sad longing for that familiarity. It makes you feel lonely and even angry. Going on social media also becomes a constant trigger of what you’re missing as people are posting about their experiences.”
“The notion of safety is also getting challenged.”
Kapoor adds that it’s not just about bursting crackers, but about going shopping, cleaning the house, everyone eating together and meeting friends. COVID-19 has changed various forms of socializing, but its immediate impact is even more pronounced during a time of community.
“In a year like this, the notion of safety is also getting challenged. So many of my clients with parents who are senior citizens aren’t going home because they don’t want to put them at risk,” Kapoor explained. “So in addition to the loneliness, there is helplessness too when wanting to go back home this year.”
This, she added, is making people question their life choices, as they’re staying away from their family to earn a living, but what is that effort for, when you can’t even go back on the special days you want to?
13-year-old Bengaluru resident Ayanna Guha doesn’t have these adult Diwali problems. She’s just sad that unlike every Diwali, she can’t get together with friends in her building and light diyas, make rangolis and burst crackers.
“This year is very boring,” she confessed. “I haven’t been able to do anything with my friends. Even with my family, we aren’t distributing sweets like we did. I’m not even sure if we will go out to buy crackers.”
“It’s sad, because I really liked it when we did those things together.”