Kolkata: If you happen to go to any outdated enterprise institution on Poila Boisakh, or the Bengali New Yr, in West Bengal, it will likely be arduous for you to not discover a red-cloth-hand-bound pocket book close to the billing desk.
Generally known as haal khata or kheror khata, it’s mainly a ledger e book utilized by merchants to notice down their transactions. However on Bengali New Yr, it assumes loads of significance for merchants and is taken into account auspicious.
Earlier, even 8-10 years in the past, the “haal khata custom” was once a ceremony in itself, however now digitisation has turned it right into a mere formality.
Aside from depleting gross sales resulting from low demand, the Covid-19 pandemic and rise in price of paper has come as a double whammy to the haal khata producers in Kolkata’s Baithakkhana bazaar, considered one of India’s largest paper markets.
“Covid-19 has affected us rather a lot, enterprise has been near nil within the final two years. This yr, there was somewhat enchancment. Earlier, kheror khata used to promote like sizzling desserts however in the present day even 10 per cent of that amount just isn’t offered,” stated Mohammad Farooq of Bichitra Shops.
Md Farooq, whose store is over 30 years outdated, stated even small merchants these days choose to keep up their accounts in excel recordsdata quite than ledger books.
“Two years in the past, gross sales have been round Rs 10-15 lakh. It has dipped to simply Rs 2 lakh. Haal khata was once a pageant in itself, now it’s simply used for puja functions on Poila Baisakh,” he rued.
Enterprise On Final Legs?
The ‘haal khata’ ceremony begins early within the day, with shopkeepers and merchants, decked in dhoti and kurta, praying to God and in search of blessings for his or her new ledger books. Some even invite monks to their places of work for rituals and a puja is carried out with new idols of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Laxmi.
Within the night, the shopkeepers invite their stakeholders and constant prospects and provides them candy packets. Many of the institutions stay choc-a-bloc on at the present time as individuals throng their favorite retailers with a lot enthusiasm.
Whereas these red-cover books are nonetheless a part of the Poila Baisakh ritual in most retailers in Kolkata, the producers of those haal khatas admit the enterprise is on its final legs.
The impact was seen on Faculty Road, the most important e book market in Asia and the most important second-hand e book market on the planet. The gentle, handstiched kheror khata couldn’t be present in any of the retailers whereas just a few offered the hardbound ones.
“Earlier, Faculty Road was once a sea of pink within the days working as much as Poila Baisakh as many retailers used to top off on haal khata. Now, the demand has lowered drastically,” stated Imran of Bichitra Paperworks.
Whereas gross sales of haal khata have been on the decline prior to now few years, the Covid-19 pandemic has practically completed the enterprise, producers stated.
“Covid has practically completed these dealing in paper merchandise. Furthermore, resulting from colleges and faculties being closed, the market confronted big losses,” Imran stated.
Loss Of Expert Labourers
One other main drawback confronted by these producers was the lack of expert labour following the lockdown. Whereas many might not know, the haal khata used for pujas in retailers by merchants are made by Muslim employees.
Imran stated with the sharp decline in binding work, many have ventured into different trades. “Some are doing digging work, some have enrolled for NREGA for 100 days’ work, whereas some have taken to farming. Most have gone outdoors Bengal and have settled in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu,” he stated.
Mohammad Rahim, who works with Nitai Shah & Sons, the most important producer of haal khata in Baithakkhana bazaar, stated they paid the pending wages to their labourers and requested them to go away after lockdown was introduced.
“Earlier, 17-18 individuals used to work, now solely 5 individuals are right here,” Rahim stated whereas pointing at an enormous kadhai that was used to cook dinner meals for the labourers earlier than Covid-19 struck.
Rahim, who has been working at Nitai Shah for greater than 50 years, stated kheror khata value Rs 15,000-20,000 was once offered per day forward of Poila Baisakh earlier than the pandemic. “Now, it isn’t even 20 per cent of that,” he stated.
Nonetheless, Mohammed Farooq of Bichitra Shops stated most of his employees had returned. “Because of the sudden lockdown (introduced in April 2020), 15 of my labourers had been caught for 3 months. I equipped them with meals from my very own pocket regardless of no gross sales. They left then, however have come again now,” he stated.
Double Whammy Of Rising Paper Prices, Cyclone Amphan
The spike within the charge of paper and uncooked supplies like canvas and transportation price resulting from rise in gas costs have compounded the scenario even additional for haal khata producers.
“The price to make a haal khata has now doubled from what it was once two years earlier than. The price of paper has elevated by 40 per cent this yr,” Farooq stated.
Farooq, whose manufacturing unit is in Khardah (about 16 km from Kolkata), stated this yr he needed to promote the ledger books retaining a low revenue margin as transportation prices have additionally elevated resulting from a steep hike in gas costs.
Echoing him, Rahim stated one haal khata, which was once offered for Rs 45 in 2020, now prices round Rs 100.
One other producer, Goutam Saha, proprietor of Narayan Chandra Saha Paperworks, stated because of the rise in prices, shopkeepers have been reluctant to purchase kheror khata fearing that they might not promote.
“The price of one ream of paper has elevated by Rs 200-250. Rise in paper prices have hit us this yr after the second wave and Omicron
Many of the producers stated they have been nonetheless repaying the loans they’d taken following the losses they suffered throughout Cyclone Amphan, which struck Bengal in 2020.
“Greater than Covid, what has damaged our backs is the Amphan cyclone. Because the lockdown was introduced all of a sudden, we couldn’t shift our merchandise and went to our native village. After Amphan struck, I cycled for greater than 20 km to succeed in my store solely to search out the gadgets floating in water,” Goutam Saha stated.
Saha stated he incurred losses of about Rs 2-2.5 lakh that yr. “Small companies like ours take cash from mahajans and we clear the debt round Poila Boisakh. I’ve not been in a position to repay that but,” a dejected Saha stated.
Making A Kheror Khata
Making a haal khata is a cumbersome and painstaking job since it’s absolutely handmade. Because of the dip in demand, work to supply haal khata now begins from February and continues until April 14. Earlier, work used to begin from December, stated Rahim.
The pink tough cotton materials used as the duvet for these books is known as “khero”, therefore the identify kheror khata. Some producers use the cheaper lal shalu materials as properly.
There are 4 sorts of haal khata out there relying on their sizes — jabeda khata, dak khata, khana khata and khotiyan khata (not made now).
Explaining the method in making a kheror khata, Rahim stated, “First the pink material materials is lower and glued to fims of canvas of the identical measurement. These are then hung within the ropes outdoors to dry. The books are then stitched utilizing a thread and a twine is used to tie the books.”
The 60-year-old Rahim, who hails from Joynagar, has been concerned in making kheror khata since he was 13 years outdated. He stated the khero material comes from Mumbai they usually purchase it from Burrabazar wholesale market.
In response to Rahim, kheror khata was mainly utilized by individuals from East Pakistan. After Bangladesh separated from India, some individuals continued the enterprise right here after studying the craft from them.
Nonetheless, using haal khata by merchants dates again to the 18th century regardless that there isn’t a actual account when this follow began. In the course of the Zamindari system, the ledger e book was up to date on at the present time and collectors paid off.
Some reviews additionally say that it was Mughal Emperor Akbar who first launched this follow in 1556 to align the tax assortment course of with the harvest season. The Islamic lunar calendar apparently didn’t match the agricultural cycles.
Whereas the custom of haal khata has survived the check of time in Bengal, it could be a closed e book within the years to return because the enterprise group embraces digitisation.