A Happy Chinese Diwali!

“See!” my sister said, with a good deal of satisfaction that she had proved her point. “That is why I have been telling you for months that Raj Thackeray is right when he says locals should have first priority at jobs in their own home states. What is your reaction all about now if not a little leaf out of Raj Thackeray’s book?”

I had been reacting with horror to reports over Diwali that Chinese workers were coming to India in hordes on business visas and that the Indian government was beginning to crack down on them. “Why should we now import Chinese labour!!!” I had screamed. “What will happen to our own workers if they come as cheap as their goods!”

Of course, I was a little sheepish when my sister made out a case for Raj Thackeray. But, as I told her then, its not the same thing – Indians have a right to go anywhere within their country if they wish. But why should we have to put up with more of this Chinese nonsense?

Made in China Ganpatis with the trunk turning to the wrong side.

Made in China Ganpatis with the trunk turning to the wrong side.

However, the fact that that passing item on one of the news channels caught my attention at all was because of the big struggle I have over my lights and lanterns and images of Gods and Goddesses every Diwali. I split Diwali each year between my own home in Bombay and my mother’s in Nagpur. And as I am usually very busy at the time, I depend on my maid to do my Diwali shopping for me – mostly the lights and lanterns and the colours for rangoli.

Thankfully, the colours are still Indian but I have been increasingly annoyed over the years that my maid has been bringing me lanterns with dragons and Chinese damsels painted on them – that somehow feels a betrayal of Goddess Laxmi. Moreover, last year they shorted and blew my fuse. So this year, despite the fact that I was busy with the Maharashtra elections, I decided to take the time off and visit the crowded Diwali markets myself.

I discovered that my maid was not wrong when she said that there was nothing better on sale than those Chinese lanterns. No matter which part of Bombay I went to, the Diwali markets were flooded with Chinese goods and I just could not get a lantern that did not say, ‘Made in China’. So I decided to pick up a paper-and-cardboard star this Diwali that was most certainly made in India – by little girls in a bylane of Dadar in central Bombay, in fact. And so relieved was I at having got something Indian that I did not even care that parents had put little children to work to make a killing at Diwali – I decided I would rather that my money went to Indian children than Chinese prisoners who work almost for free and help China sell their goods so cheap.

But, then, when it came to the twinkling lights there was no way out – absolutely everything was Chinese. And though they came in pretty shapes like cherry blossoms, roses, plums with leaves and butterflies, they were all so fragile that they had to be handled with more than just care.

After scouring the Diwali markets, I thought I might find some Indian lights at my own electrician’s. But no such luck. “You will get nothing but Chinese these days, Madam,” he told me. “This is not like olden times when you could buy these lights today and hope to use them for the next five years without trouble. If these last you beyond this Diwali, you should consider yourself lucky that you could get more service out of them at the next. The third year, you will most certainly have to come back for a fresh series.”

Under the circumstances, I had to return to him thrice in the space of two days for the lights went kaput even as I was hanging them up – either the wires came out or the tiny bulbs just fused out. Neither I nor he could fix them again and I finally got them up on the fourth try after handling them like cream and butter.

“At least they were only sixty rupees each (for a six-metre length),” he said. “What more do you expect out of something that comes so cheap?” he asked.

“I would not mind paying even 600 rupees for them if they last me at least five to six years,” I said.

“Woh zamana gaya, Madam,” he said sagely. “Get used to a largely Chinese Diwali. In dinon Bhagwan bhi Cheen se hi aate hain!”

I knew what he meant but I still threw him a questioning look.

He pointed to images of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Laxmi – very colourful ones and ‘washable’ as he said – various points lit up and ‘Made in China’ labels at the bottom. “They sell like hot cakes during Diwali,” he said, adding that sometimes the Chinese get it wrong, like placing Lord Ganesha’s trunk towards the right when it should really turn to the left. “We then have to return those batches because no one wants them. But by and large these are fast-moving items.”

I decided to stick to my home-grown and Indian-made brass Laxmi and Ganesha. And I have finally discovered a shop that sells some very delicate looking but very sturdy and lit-up (though not twinkling) dragon flies — at Rs 900 for five-and-a-half metres. The sales man assured me they will light up my Diwali for at least five years. And what’s more — they are made in India!

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