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Lakshmi smile on Durga Puja
- Hint of revival from crisis in bangalore festivities

Bangalore, Sept. 26: The mother of the wealth goddess has beaten the downturn, which is more than what many companies can say.

After months of gloom that’s accompanied slowing business, tighter budgets and job losses in Bangalore’s much vaunted IT sector, Goddess Lakshmi, the daughter of Durga, appears to have smiled on the software-polis.

Bengalee Association, Bangalore’s oldest social forum of the community which also hosts the city’s biggest Durga Puja celebrations, said raising funds had been easier this year compared to 2008, when the festive season was severely hit by the global meltdown that had begun impacting India.

“Last year, we felt the pinch of the recession,” said Achintya Lal Roy, president of the association, which is celebrating its golden jubilee this year. “This year that has gone.”

The association will spend between Rs 40 lakh and Rs 45 lakh on the festivities, about Rs 5-10 lakh more than last year. “It was very difficult to reach it (the target) last year,” Roy said.

The festive cheer reflects the steady, if a tad slow, economic revival in India’s software capital. Sectors such as real estate, auto and entertainment — which rode the IT boom all these years — have begun picking up in recent months.

The real estate and auto sectors are showing signs of recovery. Revenue from property registrations fell nearly 18 per cent to Rs 1,980 crore in 2008-09 from Rs 2,408 crore the previous year — and hit the city’s entertainment and hospitality sectors as people slashed spending.

Now, with the economy slowly beginning to get back on track, many are willing to revisit shelved plans. “More (real estate) deals are closing,” confirmed Pankaj Malhotra, who runs Golden Nest Real Estate Consultants in Bangalore.

M.R. Uday, general manager of Classic Automotives Bangalore Pvt Ltd, a used-car dealer, reckoned nearly 60 per cent of his customers were from the IT sector.

“Now it’s a mix,” he said, adding that business had picked up slowly since May and he was now selling some 200 cars a month, which, however, was lower than what it was before the downturn began. It was at least 40 per cent more over the last three years, he said.

Corporates admit it’s not quite splurging, but the slowdown-hit software city is gradually going back to its spending ways, which has meant good news for Puja organisers.

“We have got a pretty good response, both from the corporate sector and individuals,” said Arindam Ray, cultural secretary of the Sarjapur Outer Ring Road Bengali Association (SORRBA), a newly formed association that’s celebrating its first Puja. “We didn’t see much of a problem.”

Less than a year old, SORRBA is located on one of the city’s IT corridors and nearly 80 per cent of its members are from the sector, Ray said.

At least 34 pandals have been set up across the city, a couple of them new ones, said Bengalee Association’s Achintya Roy.

“If (the) IT (sector) as such doesn’t pick up, it’s very tough for events to happen in Bangalore,” said Sudipto Das, who handles cultural events at the Sarathi Socio-Cultural Trust, which organises the Puja at Koramangala, a locality home to many IT firms and professionals.

“Finance is tough this year also,” said Das, adding that the number of small sponsors “has reduced a lot”.

The Koramangala puja, which sees at least 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh visitors over the four days, will spend around Rs 18-19 lakh as against Rs 22 lakh last year in an attempt to optimise costs, he said.

Tarun Pal, a Calcutta-based craftsman whose family has been selling idols in Bangalore for 40 years, said competition had increased but business hadn’t really improved. This year, he’s managed to sell only 18 Durga idols, which, he reckons, is because people have slashed budgets and are not placing orders like they used to. “When business was good, we would sell at least 25 idols.”

But the scale of festivities has not really dimmed in the city, home to about 3 lakh Bengalis. Some of the shows lined up include performances by Nachiketa, Kabir Suman, Antara Chowdhury, Lopamudra Mitra and acts like the Bangalore-based Bangla rock bands Backbenchers and Aurko.

“It’s not just Bengalis who participate,” said UK Banik, a founder-member of the South Bangalore Cultural Association, which has been celebrating Durga Puja for the past 13 years. “Most people in the locality join us.”

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