This year, the novel coronavirus pandemic has taken away the sheen from India’s biggest and brightest festival, Diwali. Thousands of small-scale potters in the country make their living providing the hallmark decorations of the annual event.
Families who have lived for generations in the potters’ lane on South Delhi’s Press Enclave road cling to their profession despite the dwindling market for earthen lamps known as “diya”. The potters are now reeling from meagre sales, as the event has been marred by coronavirus this Diwali; many blame China for COVID-19.
“For years Chinese lights and lamps took away our market and this year when we could have made a little money as the Chinese products have been banned, but the virus from China is killing our business,” said Phoolwati, a perturbed local potter sitting with a stack of hand-made diyas.
These craftsmen work tirelessly days ahead of the festival as demand skyrockets for earthen lamps and idols of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi.
The shops and the market in Delhi are now decked out in colourful Diwali decorations. Idols of Lord Ganesha and Lakshmi have been lined up on display, but now they outnumber shoppers in the outdoor market. Just a few potential customers stroll there, wearing masks and face shields to protect them from coronavirus.
Ram Narayan, a 78-year-old craftsman who has spent decades making pottery, said Diwali was the last hope for his family of ten, who had been surviving on loans throughout the pandemic.
“I took a loan to buy raw material and purchase decorative items. I have invested INR 400,00-500,000 ($5,356 - $6,694) but have not even earned 30% of it,” said Narayan.
People across India, mainly businessmen, would spend millions shopping for gifts, sweets and dry fruit for clients and families on Diwali as a gesture of cordial relations.
However, this year the Diwali festivities have been a muted and intimate affair. People are spending less, in anticipation of leaner times ahead. People flocking to these shops are coming for the most basic Diyas, which cost a meer 2 rupees each.
Ram Narayan says he has never seen such a lacklustre Diwali in his whole life and hadn't anticipated one.