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Mixed bag of festive feel

Eighty-three per cent end up spending more than what was budgeted; 88 per cent feel extravagance in community pujas is a waste of money.

Three cheers for puja festivities, lighting and grand pandals; thumbs down for crowded streets and too much noise.

The only thing about Durga Puja that cannot be debated is that it is the most important event on a Calcuttan's calendar.

But almost everything else ' sight and sound, sense and sensibility ' evokes divergent feelings and dissonant voices from Calcutta, the bundle of contradictions.

To understand more about Durga Puja ' ranging from plans and preparations to peaks and perils ' Consumer Connect conducted an opinion poll for Metro on Sunday in the second week of September.

Over 200 Calcuttans ' male wage-earners, housewives, young adults from various sections of society ' were quizzed about Puja 2004.

The results throw up a few areas of consensus and several points of disagreement, highlight changing trends and track today's tastes and preferences.

Shopping is everything

If It's the time to disco was Karan Johar's anthem for a generation with no faith in the future, it's the time to shop is the theme for the pre-Puja dream for Calcuttans.

Shop till you drop, drown in consumerism and buy beyond the budget ' that, in a nutshell, is the spirit of the season where money is the name of the game.

And all this spending sets off a demand chain that gives a big push to business and industry in the region, giving the government one more reason to smile.

'If it is Christmas in New York, it is Puja in Calcutta. The spending spree is encouraging as it proves there is more money in circulation, which signifies rise in disposable income and broadening of the market. All these factors send positive signals to potential investors,' says Atri Bhattacharya, executive director, West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation.

Backing fact with figures, he adds: 'Three years ago, IMRB compiled some data on consumer expenditure in greater Calcutta during the two-month festive period and estimated the spending, excluding white goods and durables, to be around Rs 350 crore. Even if we assume a 10 to 15 per cent annual growth, the number looks very impressive.'

The opinion poll results support the findings and establish the strong correlation between shopping and festivity. With over 87 per cent of respondents saying that Puja shopping eats up the bulk of their annual shopping outlay and 52 per cent admitting they have already stepped out of home, big shopper in hand, it is win-win for all.

According to Kishore Biyani, chief knowledge officer, Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd, while the buying cycle ' the period of hectic sales ' before a festival is shrinking to 10 to 15 days before festivals in other cities, the cycle is still around 40 to 45 days in Calcutta. 'This is good for retail business and we benefit from it. Puja is the most important period and the sales during this period contribute 22 to 25 per cent of our topline,' explains Biyani.

The stops and the spread

According to the opinion poll, the new-age malls are fast moving up on Calcutta's list of favoured shoppers' stops with 45 per cent of respondents saying they pick up garments from the malls and the mega stores.

'We do our Puja shopping from New Market, Shreeram Arcade and Dakshinapan. Since we are a big joint family, we usually buy clothes like saris and kurta-pyjamas for our relatives. For myself, I buy shoes and jewellery only occasionally during the Pujas,' says rising Tollywood star Koel Mullick.

A category-wise break-up shows ' no surprises, here ' garments as the most important component of the Puja consumption basket with 99 per cent of those interviewed saying new clothes are a must for the festival, followed by footwear (80 per cent).

But the fastest-moving flavour of the season wears the fancy item tag, with 28 per cent of respondents revealing their preference for purchases beyond jama and juto.

'Pujoy chai notun cell phone' could very well be the new ring tone this autumn with 55 per cent of respondents ' among those game to splurge on fancy items ' indicating they would buy new handsets before the festival comes calling.

The mobile mania has already hit the supply chain. 'We are expecting the market to take off in the second week of October. Already there are indications that we will experience at least 50 per cent growth in sales. To make purchases more attractive, we are introducing various gifts,' said a spokesperson for D.P. Electronics in Chandni market, boasting the brightest and the loudest before the month sets in.

The highs and lows

It is the best of times for most, but also the worst of times for a few. The opinion poll throws up what people like about the Puja and what puts them off. The festive feel ' grand pandals, protimas, lighting and all ' top the list of favourites, followed by indoor adda sessions and family gatherings.

But the chaos on the streets and the decibel devil are what many Calcuttans find difficult to deal with. For some, this is reason enough to pack their bags and flee to quieter climes from the chaos cauldron.

'All this noise, crowd, glitter and entertainment is part of my job, so during the Pujas I try to get away from the city every year. I usually go to forests across the country. This time, I am planning to tour north Bengal,' says actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty.

For once, Feluda does not play Pied Piper as a whooping 89 per cent polled reject the idea of a deserting Calcutta during the Durga Puja.

So, if staying put in the city is the spirit of the season, what's the plan of action'

More than 74 per cent of respondents say they would go pandal-hopping, but treating the Pujas as spectator sport finds favour with most ' only 20 per cent say they play a part in organising para or building pujas.

But staying with the Puja spirit that is now finally being packaged and marketed as a tourist draw, why not let the exception (the participative and the passionate) rather than the rule (the distanced and the detached) have the final say' 'We have a huge Puja at home and I am very much involved with it. In fact, my other family members who live outside Calcutta make it a point to come down every year,' sums up actress Koel.

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