Almanacs on sale in IA Market’s Sri Guru Bhandar. (Sanat Kumar Sinha)
The top-most item on the Poila Baisakh shopping list seems to be the panjika. While demand for other traditional items have seen ups and downs over the years, shops in Salt Lake markets place their money on the almanac.
“We should sell about a thousand panjis this season. And these are almanacs for just casual users. We have more detailed “directory panjikas” for astrologers that should sell between 60 and 70 copies,” says N.S. Mondal of Sri Guru Bhandar in IA Market.
Shops start displaying panjis on their shelves from before Saraswati puja and will keep them till Sravan (mid-July to mid-August) but the bulk of sales happens around Poila Baisakh. The “pocket” and “half” Benimadhab Sil panjikas, priced Rs 18 and 25 respectively, record highest sales. Panjis for professional purposes, such as the one by P.M. Bagchi & Co, run into to several hundred pages and cost around Rs 100.
“In my 28 years of business here, the panji is one of the few items that has never dwindled in sales,” says Goutam Ghosh of Purbachal Market’s Goutam Bookstores. But it is tough to find a shop that sells hal khata (the red cloth-bound note books for keeping accounts) and Bengali calendars. Shops say there is no demand for hal khatas among residents and those who have businesses source them from Burrabazar.
As for calendars, vendors say it makes no sense selling them when customers are on the lookout for getting them for free. “When I celebrate Akshay Tritiya later in the month at least 500 customers will come and make the smallest purchases simply to get the calendar that comes free,” says Ghosh. He stocks English calendars every January and sells around 100 of them.
Other shops have done away with the practice of gifting calendars as their prices have increased considerably. “Besides, Salt Lake customers have high standards even for gifts. They frown if I hand them Rs 12 calendars,” says Balaram Rong of Jasoda Dashakarma Bhandar in EC Market. “Such is the lure of calendars that even residents who have never bought anything from me come and ask for them. Out of courtesy I have to offer them a box of sweets too. I end up spending Rs 800 to Rs 1,000 and that is beyond my reach. So I’ve completely dispensed with the gifts.”
Rekha Dey, a resident of Purbachal, says she does not make any purchases for the Bengali New Year but a puja is performed for their family business and they buy boxes of sweets to give guests.
At CA Market sweets shop Kalpataru, Prasenjit Sil says sales increase three to four times on Poila Baisakh. "Our biggest customers are businesses who perform puja and distribute sweet boxes. Some order as many as 2,000 packets." Out of the 10 to 12 items in the box most are sweets but customers always include one or two non-sweet items such as khasta kachuri, singara or nimki.
The vendors at VIP Sweets, in DL Block, say customers only opt for traditional Bengali sweets on Poila Baisakh and do not want to innovate. "Kalakand, Ladu, Kheer Kadam, Sonpapri, Manahara and Chom Chom are the favourites," says vendor Manoranjan Garui. "Poila Baisakh is as big a festival for us as Vijaya Dashami and Bhai Phonta."
Not all shopkeepers are counting their chickens. Those selling ghots for the puja do not expect much sales. Those in AB-AC Market say the sale of earthen pots has dwindled as people prefer unbreakable brass ones and those in BD Market feel many will not perform the puja this year as it falls on a Saturday, when Shani puja is performed. "All such people will perform Akshay Tritiya this year and my ghots will sell then."
Sari shops consider the New Year a window of opportunity. "Old stock is cleared in the Chaitra month but from Poila Baisakh fresh saris come in. From mid-April the wedding season starts too and customers come to buy saris as gifts. So the expensive ghicha silk saris, priced between Rs 600 to 1,200 sell," says shopkeeper Atanu Basak.
CA Market's Kiran Saree Emporium also expects New Year sales. "Poila Baisakh onwards we display our summer collection," says proprietor Pradip Kumar Basu. We invite regular customers on the day and gift them with sweets and calendars. They don't mind taking a look at the new chiffons and kotas and often take home one."