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Indians Replace Customary Sweets With Other Gifts at Festival Time


For generations, traditional Indian sweets have been a customary gift during the main Hindu festival, Diwali. But tastes are changing as India globalizes - and chocolates, cakes or other gifts are replacing Indian sweets as the hot favorites. From New Delhi, Anjana Pasricha has a report.

Markets are packed with shoppers just days ahead of India's main Hindu festival, Diwali. Some people are heading to shops selling traditional sweets or "mitthai." They want to follow a custom that has been handed down generations - exchange a box of "mitthai" with friends, relatives, and colleagues.

The sweets come in dozens of varieties, mostly prepared with condensed milk and sugar, and flavored with spices such as saffron and cardamom.

But many other customers are passing by shops selling "mitthai." Instead they are looking out for chocolates, confectionery, household items such as fancy linen, or even the latest mobile phones and iPods.

In recent years, the allure of sweets appears to be fading - at least for the wealthy. Suhasini Sood, 35, says she has stopped buying "mitthai".

"I think it is mostly change of tastes, and also to some extent changing social norms," said Sood. "It's more "done" to give chocolates, and or you know some other gifts instead of "mitthai.""

Vinay Aggarwal is partner in a popular sweet shop in Central Delhi. He admits that sweets are no longer appetizing for some customers. But he says it is only the rich who have changed their habits - for the masses, it is still a box of sweets.

"Only five percent of the upper crust, elite of society, they can afford to buy chocolates or maybe whatever they want to buy, maybe gold, maybe whiskey, maybe anything," he said. "Not the common man."

However, the common man's wallet does not stretch as far as that of the wealthy. As a result, the changing trend has begun impacting sales. A survey by the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated that sales of sweets last year were down 40 percent from the previous year.

This year could see sales plummet even further - partly due to the global financial crisis which is having ripples in India as stock markets and property prices crash, and companies prepare for lower profits.

Aggarwal says sales have been hit.

"For those who were buying 200 boxes are buying 50 boxes, which is very necessary," he said. "They can't afford to do away with it."

Diwali is India's biggest festival. Companies distribute bonuses at this time so that employees can buy gifts both for families and friends.

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