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How to recycle your Diwali gifts

K S Shekhawat | November 07, 2005

It's every year's nightmare -- what to do with the junk on which hundreds of thousands of rupees have been spent every year at Diwali? Your attempts end in exasperation as you try and dispose off the expensive wrapping and its contents without causing injury to those who've given you the totally useless packaging that's actually supposed to be used after the nuts have been eaten, or the mithai slipped to unsuspecting guests who come with still more unwelcome gifts.

The obvious thing to do, of course, is to play passing the parcel: Mrs Sharma's tray of almonds can be passed on to Mrs Verma, and Mrs Verma's quite useless box of candles and diyas (because Mr Jain, Mrs Mathur and Mr Rangachari also gave you something similar) can be forwarded (after checking to see that there's no signed note of compliments sneaked inside the wrapping) to the neighbours.

Unfortunately, this only works before Diwali.

The accumulation of gifts after Diwali could threaten your living space. What do you do with your (usually quite useless) Diwali gifts?

The obvious first step is to divide it up into consumables and non-consumables. The consumables first, then.

The thing that's likely to rot (if it hasn't already) is the mithai, and one can't help wondering why you hadn't sent it off in the first place to orphanages, clinics, hospitals and the like.

If you still have boxes left over, see if it has turned bad; if it hasn't, you might consider breaking up the mithai in a hot kadhai (with a little oil) and turning it into a halwa (which should preserve it for a little longer). This, however, is only possible with a single type of mithai and not those boxes of mixed sweets you usually get.

Some enterprising housewives leaven the mithai with dough to make meetha parathas to pack in school tiffins or their husband's lunch packs (to be distributed to unsuspecting colleagues). But chenna (cottage-cheese) based sweets need to be disposed off immediately.

Cakes (as long as they aren't iced) and chocolates usually fare better, since they can be stored longer. Once again, distribution is key: get them out of the house because, somewhere, there are loads of people who haven't got any sweets at all. Hospitals and charitable institutions are always a good bet.

With dry fruit, you're in better luck -- divide the raisins, almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts into separate lots and seal them in airtight containers. Voila, you've pretty much got your year's supply of cocktail snacks or dessert toppings in order.

But with gift hampers increasingly coming with packets of everything from potato chips to noodles on the one hand, and gherkins to sauces and dressings on the other, you can do a selection of what you really want (the barbeque sauce, perhaps), and send the rest to NGOs that work with less privileged children.

Watch out for rat-eaten packs though, slipped in by unscrupulous shopkeepers into hampers -- we had to throw away packets of ready-to-eat pasta that had evidently already provided a feast for a family of rodents.

The non-consumables are tougher. Unused candles and candle holders can still be used for X'mas gifting, but what do you do with the surfeit of papier-mâché and terracotta dabbas, the framed prints, the nth set of coasters?

Some of it can be kept for giving as birthday and anniversary gifts to (distant) friends, but most of it, though expensive, is unlikely to be giftable. A good idea is to get together with friends and give it all away at a friendly neighbourhood school fete by way of a raffle or lucky draw.

There's still the matter of the tissue and gauze wrappings, the ribbons and beads and sequins.

Our take -- iron them out and store them for re-use under the mattress. Sometimes, recycling isn't a dirty word...


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