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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Priest hurries, peddler hurts

At a Salt Lake Puja, the purohit is pushing the pedal. If things don’t go precisely by the tick-tock of the panjika clock, the Sandhi Puja will go awry. After all, the 48 minutes of the Puja today comprise the last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Navami.

At Ahiritolla Sarbojanin Durgotsab, instead of repeating the Ashtami pushpanjali mantra the regulation three times, just one offering is allowed. “I have been instructed by the organisers to perform the anjali just once in every round to save time,” admits the purohit.

Scenes from an all-action Ashtami morning. And if it seemed like time was running out, it truly was.

For, going by Odriksiddhanta (Gupta Press), Navami and Dashami have fallen on Wednesday, October 12. The first to feel the fast forward push is the priest. As purohit Mihir Chakraborty in Salt Lake put it, there’s hardly any breathing space. “Though no ritual is being curtailed, the time factor is more vital this time than in other years. So, the puja organisers and purohits are having to be extra punctual,” Chakraborty said.

Punctuality on three festive days can’t salvage the loss of the fourth for those paving the path to pandals ' the vendors.

“With Navami and Dashami on the same day, we lose out on a full day’s earnings. Unlike those who have permanent settlements, we will not be allowed to set up shop for a single extra day,” rues Gulab, who sold Rs 20,000 worth of papri chaat at Mohammed Ali Park, from 4 pm on Monday to 3 am on Tuesday.

Even the more organised stalls like the ice cream vendors in Salt Lake’s FD block are counting their losses. “We are open round the clock, but there is no way we will be able to make up for the day we are losing,” admits a stall owner.

The balance sheet is in black and white ' a vendor at a popular Puja pandal can earn anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 30,000 a night. That is the sum he stands to lose in a three-day Puja.

The loss of a festival day has bridged the divide between the makeshift muri stall and the multiplex. Says 89 Cinemas general manager Prashant Srivastava: “We have been registering 100 per cent collections for the past three days. With the Pujas a day less, we fear a slump from Thursday.”

But another Puja spend point has more reasons to grin than grumble. For the rituals may end on Wednesday, but the revelry is set to carry on. From Royal Indian on Rabindra Sarani to Flurys on Park Street, the festive food mood that set in on Panchami (October 8) should continue right up to Lakshmi Puja (October 16).

“Calcuttans kicked off festivities a day in advance. The rush on Panchami saw the number of covers rising from 500 last year to 1,100 this time. The bookings have spilled over through the week,” says Rajesh Dubey of Mainland China.

If there are pre-bookings till Sunday at party haunt The Park, the 100-year-old Royal anticipates the rush that is forcing it to keep open all-night to carry on.

The Metro Railway, for one, anticipated the crowd crush in the time crunch. It started late-night underground services a night in advance.

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