A pack of rosogollas, a pouch of Darjeeling, a piece of Ray, an exquisite Kantha sari. This could be your last-minute shopping list before boarding a flight from Calcutta airport.
The best of Bengal has been brought under one roof in a 1,600sqft glasshouse that showcases all that the state is famous for like never before.
The first Biswa Bangla store, which opened in the domestic section of the airport’s security hold in the last week of February, is already a hit with fliers. Daily sales have been more than Rs 1 lakh on an average so far, said an official closely associated with the project.
The government-run store is the brainchild of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and has been set up by the micro and small-scale enterprises and textiles department.
“For the first time, all exclusive products of Bengal, from sweets to muslin saris, have been made available under one umbrella. The marketing strategy is different from the familiar (and sleepy) Manjusha or Tantuja stores,” said Rajiva Sinha, the secretary in charge of the department.
The response from fliers has prompted airport officials to write to the state government to set up a similar store in the international wing of the security hold. “We chose the security hold as fliers spend the maximum time there, waiting to board flights,” airport director B.P. Sharma said.
Metro scanned the sprawling store for the best takeaways before take-off.
Rosogolla, nolen gurer sandesh, langcha and mihidana are the pop picks here.
This is the first time passengers can carry rosogolla in their hand baggage as these are brought to the store for sale after a security scan, just like duty-free products at international terminals.
“These sweets are cleared by the security agencies while being brought to the Biswa Bangla stall inside the security hold and can be carried as hand baggage,” an airport official confirmed.
If bought from shops outside, fliers can carry a pack or can of rosogolla only in their registered luggage because of security reasons.
“I had earlier taken rosogolla and other sweets in registered baggage and they got spoilt. This (the store in the security hold) is a very convenient addition,” said Mumbai resident Manish Desara.
Sweet-maker Bancharam retails some its products out of the airport facility — it was selected through tender — but is not allowed to sell langcha and mihidana, an official said.
Langcha is procured from Shaktigarh and mihidana from Burdwan.
“There should be more varieties of sweets and a better display,” said Sarita D’Souza, a company executive from Mumbai who was on a visit to Calcutta.
This and that
If sweets top the list of favourites, Darjeeling tea, apparel, amsotto and kasundi (both from Malda), jute bags and brass and silver jewellery are also in demand. The prices of items in the jewellery section range between Rs 150 and Rs 10,000. Jute bags with an “I love Bengal” logo on them have been specially designed for the store.
On Tuesday, chief minister Mamata gifted Tolly star Dev, her candidate for the Ghatal Lok Sabha seat, an indigo kurta. Sources said the hand-woven kurta made of hand-spun khadi costs Rs 2,499.
Indigo-dyed saris are being produced by weavers in Nadia’s Phulia. The handspun and handwoven yarn is dyed in indigo and then woven into Jamdani saris.
Khadi shirts for men, silk kurtis for women, Kantha and Jamdani matka saris, and shawls are available at the store. “We are also trying to revive the atar and surma industries of Chitpur that date back to 1824. That business has shifted to UP,” an official said.
Special-edition CDs of Bengali folk music, Tagore, Nazrul and baul songs, and Mahsishasur Mardini have been produced for the store. Also selling like hot singaras are iconic films of Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak.
The department of micro and small-scale enterprises and textiles has handpicked artisans and weavers from across Bengal to supply products to its Biswa Bangla store. Nearly 1,000 artisans and weavers have been trained so far.
“There are no middlemen involved. We procure the products directly from these artisans and weavers and the profits are distributed,” the secretary said.
The design consultants travel to the villages to meet the weavers and artisans and discuss exclusive designs for various Biswa Bangla products. “Handloom and handicrafts are in decline for want of proper design inputs for artisans and weavers, lack of finance and inadequate marketing of products,” said Partha Kar, a Delhi-based designer who is the chief consultant for Biswa Bangla.
His team has held at least 10 meetings with the artisans and weavers so far.
In January, the state government hired a team of eight consultants through a bidding process to develop niche handicraft and handloom products.
The tender was floated in November and finalised in December. “Things moved fast because the chief minister’s office wanted it,” an official said.
The team’s brief was to establish Biswa Bangla as a brand, give the concept shape and set up the required infrastructure over six months.
There are designers and consultants working on shop management, branding, packaging and marketing. Around 15 store employees conversant in English and Hindi work in two shifts. The idea is to train them in such a way that if a flier enquires, any of the employees should be able to explain the speciality of a patachitra design from Midnapore or the uniqueness of a particular variety of rice.
Brand experts say that to make Biswa Bangla popular, it should stock the “best products” and ensure the “finest packaging”.
“It certainly has to be about innovatively packaging and offering Bengal’s best and the world’s finest, across every offering that’s in the store! Whatever one picks up has to be packaged to showcase the best our state has to offer,” said Anurag Hira, executive creative director of 141 Design, a division of advertising agency Bates 141.
So is he impressed with the start? “As far back as I can remember, something like this would at worst have been a shabby makeshift store with some really sad-looking products. For last-minute shoppers who wanted to gift a piece of Bengal, they would have to choose from stuff that invariably looked cheap, or poor! You couldn’t even get a memento of a Bankura horse, leave alone fresh rosogollas,” Hira said.