Happy Diwali from Down Under

My first visit to Sydney was in the 70s when my father was posted here on work. It was my first time staying at a hotel and I was thrilled. My parents were thrilled too until we went to church that Sunday. The pastor was appalled when he found that we were staying at King’s Cross – a red light district at the time 🙂 We hadn’t gone out at night and in the day time we had just assumed that’s how things were in this country (this was pre-internet, remember). More worrisome for us was that we hadn’t seen any of the kangaroos and sheep we had expected to be roaming the streets based on the brochures we’d picked up at the Aussie embassy in New Delhi.

Today’s tourists are of course much better informed, and attracting travelers is a science in itself. The view from my Sydney window is of engineering marvels from a previous century – the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Both are now cultural icons and tourist draws, particularly as wedding photo locales. (Wealthy Chinese can pay up to $500K for a good pre-wedding shoot, and it’s a billion dollar business.) Both are practical too – the Bridge is used for transport and the Opera House made a tidy $2.8 million in profit last year from shows and guided tours. The fireworks show on New Year’s eve with these attractions in the backdrop pulls in tourists and locals in droves with rooms with a view – like the one I have – going at $1000 a night. India’s latest engineering marvel, the Statue of Unity is the world’s tallest statue – double the height of the Statue of Liberty. That’s cool, and I would like to see it but I don’t know how I’d get there or what else I could club the trip with, unlike say India Gate or Gateway of India which are conveniently situated in major cities.

I wrote about my visit to Samsung’s Opera House experience centre in Bangalore. We visited that quite a few times until new rules came in and the staff stopped kids from playing games on the phones and the attraction lost its magic. But with more and more people looking for things to do in their leisure time businesses have an opportunity to step into these gaps by offering ‘experiences”. Apparel and cosmetic brands could offer a chance to design a look, home furnishings education on interior design, food products on cuisines and so on….International brands like Decathlon and Ikea position their large stores as experience centers where you can have a fun time. As business moves online (even Australia has Amazon now) that’s the way forward to be an iconic brand.

I hosted a Halloween party on behalf of my child this year. 2 hours,15 meters of black fabric, some props and lots of suspense resulted in a “scary room” that got gratifying shrieks from the 9 year-olds. Neighbours were introduced to “trick or treating” and persuaded to hotfoot to the nearest store to buy candy. In addition to the traditional apple-bobbing we had a “pani-puri” eating competition. Next year we shall have pumpkin sambar on the menu right after carving 🙂 India, of course, has no history of Halloween but it’s fast catching on because it is very experiential, fun, and a chance to bond with your community. Perhaps it is cultural appropriation, but as our family structures change we have to revisit our festivals and design them for the new realities of friends like families and neighbourhoods replacing the village.

Leaving India on Nov 3rd I was still in limbo between Halloween and Diwali when I reached Sydney to be greeted with Christmas decorations. But in a brief pitstop on the road to Christmas, today most offices are closing early because it’s Melbourne Cup day! Only in Australia is a horse race sufficient to halt a nation (in India that privilege is reserved for cricket). Restaurants are all cashing in on the happy occasion as they have for some 150 odd years since the race began.

I’m too late for a lunch reservation. But I’ll be joining the fun at dinner.


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