Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Oct 19, 2002
Columns - E-Dimension
How real is the festival cheer?
OCTOBER is a month with too many reds in it. There is a procession of festivals, and, for a change, it looks as if celebrations would never end. Every gala has a history; and a common thread for these, from an economic perspective, is to give a boost to spending, be it on fruits, clothes, provisions, decorations, gifts, crackers, and so forth.
In every land, festivities punctuate seasons of plenty, as a thanksgiving to nature. But when monsoons fail, business is dull, and the mood downbeat, it is difficult to play the drum and make merry. For the many with very little disposable income, the approach of a `red' letter day means only `red' in the passbook, and a credit card that should be exploding.
Though, normally, gods are not known to make tough demands of the devotees, time has foisted shackling traditions on people such as that they make taller and costlier idols that would within days be destroyed even by hazarding ecology; that they gaudily decorate; blindly gift; and deafly blast fireworks. Those who try to reason out avoid splashing sandal paste on windshields or tie plantain trees to their fenders, as much as they would not do a `Pokhran' of a stout pumpkin on a thoroughfare, tie festoons, deface freshly painted walls, gift spoilt fruits and broken baskets, or pace-bowl a coconut throwing splinters on those around.
Perhaps there is an overhead for those who lead to set the right model, lay an appropriate discipline, and advocate relevant celebration. That is why, it appears odd for the PM to try his hand at archery or for Sonia to appreciate a public burning of a lot of money in the shape of a whole family of `demons' the father, son and chacha.
Supporters of the carnival chant that these are occasions to symbolise the victory of good over evil. How, an entrepreneur would wonder, when he is already scraping his kitty to fund a mela, even as statutory dues are yet unpaid, and workers beam smiles temporarily forgetting that their salaries were last disbursed months ago.
If there is enough evil already meriting a reincarnation, why should we add to our own woes by depleting scarce economic resources, could well be a question top on a thinking economist's mind.
However, sociologists may support all the jumping and dancing because this could be a cost-effective means to achieve integration and fellow feeling.
News reports talk about how the events passed off "with traditional gaiety and enthusiasm" and of the resolve that "demons will be brought to their logical end".
Also how children enjoyed "brilliant display of fireworks" and how armed personnel ensured "foolproof security".
You may say cynical, sceptical and so on, but the truth is that cheer is but shallow when hopes are dim, demons do not pop off just like that, fireworks are too ephemeral, and security can never be foolproof.
To wish that one is safe and sound by propitiating the gods, that granaries would fill if effigies get burnt, or that money spent would come back manifold, one has to be a hater of economics and its laws.
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