The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chicken back on menu choice
- Flu fever recedes with marriage season

Gautam Sengupta and Aditi Ghosh tied the knot last Friday. On Sunday, they threw a grand wedding feast. There was a “surprise item” on the biyebarir menu: tender pieces of reshmi kebab, the toast of the evening.

Chicken is staging a slow but steady comeback to the dining table. The fowl that flew out of the kitchen window with the advent of the bird-flu scare is making its presence felt again, after all but going missing through the February-March season.

Sample this. New Market used to sell more than 10 truckloads of chicken a day. Each truck carried more than 1,000 birds and the market sold at least 10,000 pieces. Then, bird-flu happened, and New Market found that it could not sell more than 2,000 pieces.

“Prices dropped to Rs 25 a kg from the normal rate of Rs 40,” Azmat Bhai, proprietor of National Poultry, said on Thursday.

Like any average New Market outlet, National Poultry easily sold more than 450 full-grown birds a day. The middle of February saw the figure plummet to less than a hundred.

Now, however, Azmat Bhai is wearing a smile. “We are back to near-normal,” he said. “We are again selling around 420 pieces,” he added, explaining that the marriage season, that ended a couple of days ago, had done its bit. The going price: Rs 35 a kg.

“It seems that the average household has got over its largely unwarranted fears of bird-flu,” said Rumki Mahapatra of Initiative, a catering house.

“In the season just ended, we had received orders for chicken preparations from more than three-fourths of our clients,” she added.

The city and its neighbourhood together see anything between 1,000 and 2,500 marriages during the most crowded days of the wedding season. Another season approaches — starting on Poila Baisakh — and the end-Phalgun phase has given chicken-sellers something to cheer about.

Dibyendu Kotal is a prominent stockist in central Calcutta. He would stock, and sell, around 8,000 kg of the fowl every week, before the city was “hit” by bird-flu. During the bleakest part of the season, he was forced to bring down his stocks to just around 800 kg.

“Every day, I was forced to cancel at least five orders,” Kotal recounted on Thursday. “We were apprehensive that we would have to fold up,” he admitted.

But now, he is back to stocking more than 7,000 kg of chicken weekly and retail prices are around Rs 40, up from Rs 20-odd.

Retailers agree with the big players. Shyamal Chandra Guha owns two outlets at Sreemani Market, on Cornwallis Street. Each unit would sell around 160 kg of chicken daily. Then, with the city in the grip of bird-flu fear, sales plummeted to below 20 kg a day.

“Things became so bad that we were pleading with our regular clients to buy chicken at half the market price,” recounted Guha. Now, however, prices are where they were, as are the queues.

With the worst over, Guha and most others in the trade are counting their chickens even before the new wedding season hatches.

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