Seasonal festivities hit by terror hangover

Following last month’s terrorist attacks, Christmas celebrations in Mumbai this year are low-key and subject to heightened security.

In the last few years, India’s booming economy has made the festive season a time of grandiose celebration, which has been good business for many. This year things are very different as the holidays have been marred by tragedy.

In late November’s terrorist blitz on the city, nearly 200 people were killed and 300 injured, while more than 100 hostages taken in two luxury hotels in the city. Last week the Oberoi Trident Hotel and the Taj Mahal Towers partly reopened for business.

“I think people who have traditionally been self-indulgent and generous, and who normally spend a lot of money at this time of year are cutting back,” said Tej Pal Singh Oberoi, General Manager of the Crowne Plaza in New Delhi. He thinks this is because of the economic meltdown. “But people are also feeling more insecure, aware of the attacks in Mumbai,” he added.

While the Oberoi Trident and Taj hotels in Mumbai get back to business, in a show of solidarity with the victims, almost all of India’s other hotels, shopping malls, and public institutes are keeping their festive celebrations low-key. Shopkeepers selling Christmas decorations say that sales are down.

Mahinder Lal, a shopkeeper in New Delhi, says many schools have cancelled their Christmas celebrations.

“School children have hardly bought any stuff this year. It’s a drop of about 25 per cent,” he noted.

There may be fewer buyers in the market, but prices are not coming down with sellers still hoping to cash in on the traditionally high season.

“Nowadays, prices increase day by day, such as on vegetables or meat, so that’s why we also have to increase prices on our menu as well,” said Manjit Sherawat, Managing Director of Moti Mahal Restaurant. “Because if we don’t, we won’t make any profit. The week between Christmas Day and New Year is when we really earn money.”

And the country’s sentiment is one of remembrance of the victims and heroes of last month’s siege.

“Due to the terror act, we plan not to celebrate New Year lavishly, because we are true Indians and we are very hurt by what happened,” said Santosh Kumar, a resident of Mumbai.

Neeraj Verma, another resident, echoes his sentiments:

“Not this time. We lost the legends of our country that is why we don’t like to celebrate New Year like previously – at least this year.”

Security is tight in public places. It serves as a reminder that people are very mindful of the threat which still exists. But still it is difficult to keep the Christmas spirit down, and with New Year just around the corner, people in India will ring in 2009, hoping for much better times ahead.

“After the Mumbai attacks, all of us were really afraid to go shopping at the weekends,” said Anish Joseph, a lawyer from New Delhi. “But slowly we realised that we just can’t live terrified of what is going to happen. So we have put it behind us and are planning our weekends again. We are not going to be scared.”