Unlike every year, Mintu Pal, a famous 53-year-old idol maker in West Bengal has experienced a 60 per cent loss in his business ahead of Durga Puja while Vinay Ganguram, owner of a 150-year-old sweet shop, intends to diversify his business so that it could survive extraordinary situations like coronavirus.
In West Bengal, Durga Puja is celebrated in a grand manner. Every year, nearly 37,000 pandals are set up and bring an economic boom.
However, the year 2020 has left the businesses declining even in the festival season. To gain insight of coronavirus impact on their businesses, spoke to locals associated with various professions in West Bengal.
Mintu Pal has been making idols and pandals for the past 32 years. Every year, he starts the preparation 5-6 months prior to D-day. Pal said, "There was no business around that time, and even now, we have seen a drop of nearly 60 per cent in our business."
"The sizes of the idols have reduced from 10-15 feet to 6-7 feet and the cost has reduced from Rs 1.50 lakh to Rs 50,000," Pal said. "The cost and demand have come down after the associations reduced their budgets."
The idol-maker has made 35 idols for the celebration in the state this year. He also ships his craft to international customers in the United States, France, Australia, Italy, West Indies, among others.
This year, Pal is making a Jungle Book-themed pandal in FD park, Salt Lake City, costing somewhere around Rs 2.5 lakh. The pandal cost has reduced to 50 per cent, he said adding, "We do not want to make much profit this year but to let people celebrate the festival."
On this year's celebration, Subir Das, a member of the Bhowpur 75 Palli committee said, "The number of the pandals will remain the same but the only difference one will see is their size and volume."
The state government also provides financial assistance to the registered committees as it gives an economic push to the state.
"Last year, the state government gave Rs 25,000 to each puja of the registered committee. And this year, they gave Rs 50,000 each because of COVID-19," said Das adding, "The reason being that there is no sponsorship, advertisement to committees."
"Compes used to invest around Rs 6 crores to Rs 7 crores for advertisement during Durga Puja. Since last year, we have seen a huge shrinkage in this segment. The advertisement, which was put at the cost of Rs 4,000, is not being displayed at Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200," he added.
Further impacting the committee to reduce the cost by one-fourth of what they had been spending, said Das.
"Durga Puja as a market incorporates apparel, food, beverage, travel, and tourism, with a turnover of lakhs of crores in the state," said Das. "There has been a reduction of nearly 30 per cent in the market since 2019."
Breaking down the expenses, Das informed us that they will be spending Rs 4 lakhs to set up the pandal, Rs 60,000 for idols, Rs 2 lakh each for food and decoration.
"We will be investing more in coronavirus precaution and awareness. This is the reason we have downsized the celebration. We have brought down the expense from approximately Rs 45 lakh to Rs 12 lakh," Das emphasised.
The impact of downsizing can be prominently seen in the businesses even in the well-established ones.
Joining the family business at the age of 14, Vinay Ganguram, now 54 is the fourth generation to lead the sweet shop. Some of their famous sweets are Sandesh, Rasraj peda, Mishti Doi, and Rasogulla.
Ganguram, explaining the culture, said, "People invest mainly in new clothes and sweets are secondary for them. Before the pandemic, people used to buy sweets for friends and relatives but now the situation has changed."
In comparison to last year's sale, Ganguram's business has been bearing a loss of 50 per cent. As his business depends on the perishable items, Ganguram has also reduced the production quantity to 50 per cent in his shop. "For now, I have reduced the sweets quantity to 50 per cent. From the seventh to tenth day of the celebration, I would increase quantity as per the demand," he added.
Being asked about encountering a situation like coronavirus in his 40 years of experience, the sweet shop owner added, "There have been ups and downs in the business but I have never experienced a situation like this before."
Ganguram, who is optimistic about the vaccine, said, "After experiencing this, I would be diversifying the business by adding a sit-in restaurant to my shop. People might not eat sweets on a regular basis but they would want to have meals at the restaurant."
Meanwhile, Babu, a 47-years-old bedding and furnishing store owner, said, "The business has been impacted upto 75 per cent due to coronavirus."
Babu has been running the store for the past 30 years.
On reduced manpower, Babu said, "Currently, I have only two helpers with me while the others could not join back amid the ongoing fear of the virus."
Despite the festival, people in West Bengal are sailing through their sufferings as the dreadful virus continues, which has not only cost lives but also the livelihoods of many.
( With inputs from ANI )
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