UAE: Sombre celebrations as Indian expatriates mark their New Year
Vishu, Baisakhi, Poila Boisakh coincide with second and third days of Ramadan.
Indian expatriate communities, belonging to various states across the country, are celebrating their traditional New Years, albeit, on a low key.
Malayalees, Tamilians, Odias and Assamese ring in Puthandu, Vishu, Pana Sankranti and Bohag Bihu on April 14, while Telugus, Kannadigas, Maharashtrians, Sikhs and Kashmiris celebrate Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Baisakhi and Navreh on April 13.
Bengalis greet their friends and family on ‘Poila Baisakh’ (April 15).
The traditional New Years are coinciding with the second and third days of the holy month of Ramadan in the UAE, making it an auspicious time for believers across the country.
Retail outlets, flower vendors and restaurants have reported a flood of enquiries for food and religious paraphernalia from Indian families across all the country, Khaleej Times has learnt.
Keralites gear up for Vishu
Since a large population of Keralites live in the UAE, scores of Malayalee families are celebrating Vishu with their families in a low-key style. “Last year, there were absolutely no celebrations whatsoever since Vishu fell during peak lockdown time. Families, such as mine, restrained from preparing sadhya (feast eaten on a banana leaf during special occasions) at home. We ordered ours from a restaurant. This year, we decided to indulge in some form of celebrations,” said Shruti Kannan, a Sharjah resident.
However, Kannan said all festivities would strictly be limited to close family members only. Lekha Menon, a Dubai-based teacher, said, “We kept Vishu Kani (first thing to be seen at dawn) last year but did nothing else. This year, my parents are visiting from Kerala. They just completed their quarantine. We look forward to having sadhya with them.”
Retailers witness high footfalls
V Nandakumar, director of marketing and communications at Lulu Group International, said, “This year, all festivities started on the same day. Also, since it’s the first few days of Ramadan, we’re witnessing high footfalls in our stores.”
He added, “Like every year, we have things flown in specifically for Vishu, including typical Kerala sadhya related paraphernalia, konnapoovu flowers, banana leaves, etc. We also have a takeaway sadhya service, and we are recording a high demand for them as well. Dishes are being sold by the kilo as well.”
Restaurant owners are viewing this time as an opportunity to turn their businesses around after the Covid-19-induced slump last year. Vijayan Nellippunathil, the executive director at Calicut Notebook Restaurant, said, “Last year, the situation was very different. Many Indians were very keen on going back to Kerala and soon after the Vande Bharat Mission was launched.”
“However, this year, people are more confident about being in the UAE. Due to the high vaccination rates and the low death count, many visitors from India are nowhere,” he said. Vijayan said his restaurant reached 80 per cent of their maximum capacity for sadhya pre-orders, both dine-in and delivery by Tuesday. “We had set our capacity at 7,000 sadhyas for customers all over UAE,” he added.
Also, Vijayan said the Dubai government’s decision to stop using screens and dividers at restaurants has also been a blessing. “I’m very proud of this nation,” he added.
Baisakhi observed at Sikh Gurudwara
Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of Al Dobowi Group and head of Sikh Guru Nanak Darbar in Dubai, said, “Baisakhi is essential to the Sikhs. It’s the harvest festival in Punjab and Guru Gobind, on this day, had started the Khalsa movement. The gurudwara was closed last year as part of Covid-19 precautionary measures. However, this year, we had keertan in the morning and evening for 30 minutes,” he said.
Kandhari said up to 50,000 people attend the gurudwara during Baisakhi during pre-Covid-19 times and celebrations include all-day prayers, cultural programmes, food, and several other festivities. “We’re continuing to abide by the rules set by the government. We had walk-in darshan, and we’re not offering langar either.”
Madhulika Chatterjee, a Bengali expatriate, said he planned to celebrate Poila Boisakh over the weekend.
“Celebrations are going to be low-key and strictly between family and close friends. We’ll have a meal and wear new clothes,” she said.
‘Konnapoovu’ sales rebound after last year’s slump
An integral part of Vishu celebrations, konnapoovu (cassia fistula) – the state flower of Kerala -- has reported a spike in demand after last year’s slump.
Sudalaimuthu Perumal, the Perumal Flowers owner, said, “Last year, Vishu flowers were our first consignment into the UAE after the lockdown. However, the demand was meagre last year.” He added, “Sales have picked up this year. We imported 1.8 tonnes of the flower from Kerala, and as of Tuesday afternoon only 130 kilograms of the flowers were pending for sale."
“Other flowers are also flying off the shelves as people from across Indian states are celebrating the New Year during this time,” he added.
Perumal said 10 tonnes of loose flowers, including marigold, lotus flowers, rose, jasmine, and banana leaves, are in high demand.
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