There’s a nip in the air, Dussehra is over and the festival of lights around the corner. It should be time for Diwali Melas, for people to have fun while stocking up on candles, handicrafts, furniture and what have you and giving artisans and small businesspersons their days of big earnings.
But then this is 2020, the year like no other, and the fear of the coronavirus lurks everywhere, compelling organisers to cancel the melas that have long been part of Diwali festivities in the city and its suburbs.
In another year, there would be fairs, with rides, food and shopping aplenty, as institutions, malls, individual localities and condominiums organised their own carnivals.
As cases spike – Delhi has been reporting more than 5,000 cases a day and its Covid count on Friday was 3.86 lakh – nobody wants to take a chance. So, organisers of the time-tested Sunder Nagar Mela and the Blind School Mela, for instance, both Delhi fixtures for decades, have decided to give it a miss this year.
"Unfortunately, we are not holding the Diwali Bazar this year due to the pandemic. Considering the government's directives and the safety and well-being of our customers and staff, we had to call off the bazaar this year," C P Mohanan, deputy executive secretary of the Blind Relief Association, told PTI.
The decision was not an easy one for the Association, which also has a hostel for the blind in its premises. The annual fair is its biggest fundraising event and contributes almost "40-50 per cent" of its annual expenses. The line-up usually has 250 stalls selling a wide range of traditional crafts and home decor among other diverse gift items.
The candles and diyas made by the blind students are a big USP and many people, who make it a point to buy from just the Blind School, have bought them online instead.
“This is sad,” said Sapna Mahajan, a homemaker in Delhi.
She said it will be the first time in 10 years that she won't visit the Sunder Nagar Mela in the heart of the city. It is one of the oldest melas in the capital.
"Diwali is my favourite festival and part of the reason is the beautiful Sunder Nagar Mela. You get everything there from Ferris wheel rides to pop up food courts and a plethora of shopping options,” said the 41-year-old.
The organisers of the Sundar Nagar Mela couldn't be reached for comment.
The management of the south Delhi mall Select City Walk said its usual mega Diwali Bazaar will not happen. Instead, a series of small events will take place under its new campaign #CityShinesAgain.
"This festive season is not going to be the same as last year or a year before that. With the ongoing market sentiment and changing consumer behaviour, every industry has taken tough decisions to offer its consumers an environment that is safe and comfortable. We are looking at the current quarter with hope and positivity," said Yogeshwar Sharma, executive director and CEO, Select CITYWALK.
It’s not just about dampening festive spirits or a monetary loss for organisers. For hundreds of craftspersons, it is also about livelihood.
Like 54-year-old Dharmendra Kumar, a weaver, who deals in handicrafts said he waits through the year for the annual Diwali fairs.
"Because of Covid this year we are neither going to have large scale exhibitions, fairs nor are we expecting people to turn out in bazaars and buy things physically. Last year, I had a bumper sale when I exhibited at a Diwali Mela in the city but this year such opportunities will not be available," said the 54-year-old, who has now turned to the web platform Direct Create to sell his produce.
According to industry insiders, the stall charges in melas can be anything between Rs 50,000- Rs 1, 70,000. The price depends on the duration – the Blind School event goes on for a week but many others are two days and sometimes just one.
But it is not all over yet.
The Dastkar 'Festival of Lights' and the Delhi Tourism Diwali Mela will be held from November 1-10 (Kisan Haat, Andheria Modh) and November 4-14 (Dilli Haat Pitampura), respectively, following all government-mandated safety precautions.
According to Shelly Jain, head programme (Dastkar), all their 250 stalls are booked. The stall charges have been brought down by 50 per cent to encourage artisans to display their wares.
"We do have to pick ourselves up and find ways to help the crafts community. Craftspeople have barely had any sales in the last six months and they are struggling economically. Our bazaar aims to help them sell their wares so that they can earn some much-needed money. Both craftspeople and customers have been extremely happy at having this opportunity after so long," she added.
'Kavi - The Poetry-Art Project', an enterprise that sells customised gifting options and has been participating in melas for the past six years now, has supported the decision of not having melas this time. Going online has worked, said co-founder Madhuri Balodi.
"This time the market has changed completely and we are somehow managing to survive with our online presence. The digital market is so huge and profitable if you use it properly,” she said.