Muscat: Residents in Oman celebrating Diwali this year can still enjoy a memorable celebration if they do so together.
Oman’s economic situation means people are unwilling to spend money on luxuries, but CM Sardar, vice chairman of the Indian Social Club (ISC), says a community celebration is best for everyone, in more ways than one.
“There is a way to balance expenses this Diwali,” he said. “All the people who belong to one group or community can pool their expenses together and organise some entertainment, so people don’t have to spend too much money, and they can enjoy with their friends and relatives. Here, we have more friends than relatives, so that is the easiest way to celebrate.
“Diwali without sweets is no festival, it is almost like celebrating Christmas without a tree,” added Sardar. “I think there should be full-fledged celebration and people should enjoy, but within limits: there shouldn’t be too much wastage, for example. Some people don’t buy sweets because other people give them, but I think everyone should buy some, at least for their religious functions at home.”
In the wake of decreasing spending power, Oman’s oldest and biggest sweet vendor, Bombay Sweets, has also seen residents drastically cut back on orders. Although they were celebrating their silver jubilee last year, Bombay Sweets’ business was hit rather badly.
“Last year, we sold about two to three tonnes of sweets and about 15,000 pieces of certain items, which is about 50 to 60 per cent of our business,” said Ali Asghar Wajihi, the director of Bombay Sweets. “We were hit really badly because of the economic situation, so I will be happy if I can match last year’s business this time as well.”
“There are no celebrations because people have cut down on spending,” he added. “We are just maintaining our business to cope with expenses, so as far as our bottom lines are concerned, we have been hit quite badly. The guys who used to place an order for OMR200 are now spending less than half of that, and companies who placed corporate orders have dropped to just 40 per cent of what they were. It is obvious that if the economic conditions are bad, people will not want to spend.”
What compounds matters is that the price of cashews—the base for nearly every Indian sweet—has also shot up. Nevertheless, Bombay Sweets has made about three tonnes of sweets in anticipation for this year’s orders.
“Earlier, we used to spend about OMR50 to 60 for a 20-kilo crate, but now we’re having to spend above OMR80 for them,” revealed Wajihi. “We have some suppliers here, and we also source them from Dubai, but this shortage of cashews is affecting everyone in the Middle East. Indian sweets are primarily made from cashews, even if we then add other ingredients such as figs, almonds or pistachio to them.”
“Our sweets are about celebrations and happiness, but people don’t have a reason to distribute sweets,” he explained. “We have a large team of employees, and I have to see that they are paid on time. I would like to say that since it is a religious festival, we have tried our level-best not to increase the prices, even though our raw material prices, petrol charges and operating costs have increased. I would ask all the residents in Oman to please come and buy sweets from us.”
However, financial experts in Oman have said that celebrations are always a time for happiness, even if times are tough.
“Religious and cultural holidays are embedded in the DNA of the social fabric of the residents and locals in Oman,” said Maimunah Al Shebani, director of The Retail Agency. “Although times are tough, consumers still want to enjoy and celebrate these occasions and are unwilling to cut out this expense. Contrary to popular belief, celebration and festival spending habits continue even when discretionary spending is under pressure.
“Most of the big-ticket purchases are buying high-value items during Diwali because it is both auspicious and special,” added Dr. Anchan CK, an investment banker in Oman. “There will be a sharp increase in sales of gold and silver items for the next few days.”
“However, people are extremely cautious and are concerned,” he said. “People want to save money instead of going on a spending extravaganza. People are okay with compromising on the level of gifts to be given, or even to hold off on new purchases.”