The first day of Puja. Pedalling back in time to when we would wake up all excited on Saptami day, eager to wear our new clothes. We always got two sets instead of four or six like our friends, Jhimly and Minku. But Ma would sternly reply that we also got two sets for Bihu ( Assamese new year) and that made it even.
Thinking... why is it that all our new clothes happened only during a celebration or on our birthdays? Never remember randomly strolling into a store and asking Ma to buy us a dress.
That was not just us. It was India. At least middle class India. Wardrobes were refreshed only during a celebration, usually a religious one or a big social one. And I realise why.
First, the relatively low income levels. Usually the father was the sole bread earner. Usually the father worked as a public servant, where salaries were unenviable.
Second, thriftiness was a virtue. Out of the salary every month, a portion had to go towards savings. Bank passbooks were a reverred item in the house. Random expenses were not encouraged.
So purchases were planned in a way that maximised the wallet and also kept the family happy. Celebrations were and still are a time when bonuses are doled out and discounts and sales are the order of the day. Offer cards and flashes appear everywhere.
Festivities are a time when the entire family relaxes the purse strings and goes all out on shopping. Since everything is purchased at that time, there is a sense of bounty and plenty. Noone feels deprived. Everyone has something, even the toothless old bai in the kitchen gets a new saree, blouse and petticoat.
So while it is a very sensible and smart budget management, it actually sends out signals of richness, wealth and happiness. Savings are hidden under the blanket of unwrapped packets, gift papers, the crackle and fragrance of new clothes.
In those days, all the eating out would also happen during Pujas. Snacks, fish curries, khichdis, gol gappas, icecreams. Toys were generously doled out. Pistols with round paper pellet bullets ( golis), plastic dancing girls that nodded their heads, plastic animals that were wheeled around on strings.
Today, thanks to the rising disposable incomes ( recession notwithstanding), younger earning groups, shift from a saving to spending economy, purchases happen all the year. Malls have sales every month, new clothes need no occasion.
I go and buy my daughter toys and games and pretty dresses whenever I have the time. I buy myself new clothes whenever I feel I need something.
Yet today, on the eve of the pujas, I feel like I have missed out on something.
I am missing the surprise on our faces when Ma opened the brown packets , the louds screams of joy when we preened before the mirror in our new clothes, Ma's gorgeous look as she draped her new saree around her, Puspa, our household help's shy smile as she proudly showed her new salwar kameez to her parents.
Makes me think... in our plentitude, have we sacrificed small joys?