There will be no turning the pages to find out the auspicious days of the Bengali New Year starting Tuesday on Poila Baisakh as the almanacs are still stuck in various stages of production.
Soft copies are the only solution, the makers say, though most are undecided about how to monetise the process.
“Our initial print run of 20,000 copies got printed and reached the binder from the press. Then the lockdown was announced and the binding unit staff left. The loose pages are still lying there. I have never faced such a situation in my 50 years in the business,” says 79-year-old Manoj Lahiri of Bisuddhasiddhanta Panjika.
At Gupta Press, the almanacs are ready to be distributed in a press off the Bypass, far away from the panjika's north Calcutta office.
“I am getting calls from other cities seeking postal deliveries, which are still on. But who will pick up the stock from the press and take it to the post office?” managing director Arijit Roy Chowdhury rued.
He had even offered to send a vehicle to pick up a few of his workers from their South 24-Parganas villages. “But so panic-stricken are their neighbours about the Covid-19 infection that they said they would not be allowed back if they stepped out of the village,” Roy Chowdhury rued.
The PM Bagchi almanac makers did manage to send their outstation consignment before the lockdown. “But most of our sales are in Bengal. That lot is sitting unsold at the press,” said Pranati Bagchi, one of the directors.
PM Bagchi Panjika Telegraph picture
“Customers who are calling us are being told to pick up their copies directly from here but how will they come?”
With the lockdown extending at least till mid-Baisakh (April 30), all the three major players have decided to distribute soft copies of the Baisakh pages. But none, barring Gupta Press, has figured out a payment module.
“I have shared the Poila Baisakh details on our Facebook page but if someone wants more, we are ready to share the soft copies of pages till Baisakh 15 on payment of Rs 100 online. We might make a partial adjustment if the same client wants to buy the printed almanac later. We will also consider Facebook requests for year-round auspicious dates for wedding, rice-eating and sacred thread ceremonies as our chief astrologer, Achintya Bhattacharya, has already prepared the lists separately,” said Roy Chowdhury.
Bisuddhasiddhanta Panjika has forwarded soft copies of the month of Baisakh on mail and WhatsApp on request from long-time customers, like Ramakrishna Mission. “How will the puja on Poila Baisakh take place otherwise?” said Lahiri.
The owners of PM Bagchi Panjika will soon prepare a soft copy of the pages. “Perhaps we will share the Baisakh pages online,” Bagchi said.
With rampant forwards being the norm, none of the presses is considering sending the entire almanac even for a fee. “It will get out of our hand if free soft copies start circulating,” Roy Chowdhury said.