After two years of keeping celebrations on hold due to Covid-19, the Bangla New Year is set to be celebrated like before on Thursday.
Like the masses, the corporate houses are also preparing to celebrate the occasion. The shopping malls have been selling clothes to celebrate Baishakh in the last few days. The sweetshops have also taken extra preparation.
But as the Bangla New Year is coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan this year, the Baishakh-centric economy hasn’t fully boomed. Moreover, it’s difficult to separate the Pahela Baishakh-centric trading this year as two big celebrations like the Bangla New Year and holy Eid-ul-Fitr are taking place in such close proximity.
But a number of businessmen have expressed optimism that this year’s combined business of Baishakh and Eid will surpass the numbers of the year before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Thanks to Halkhata celebrations, the sweetshops have been doing good business much before the Pahela Baishakh. The tradition of buying clothes to celebrate Baishakh started around 10-15 years ago. Gradually, its scope has increased. Things like furniture, electronics also got added to the list of products. From 2016, government employees, teachers and officials of the armed forces started getting Baishakhi allowance.
Private banks are also giving such allowances. All in all, as people’s purchasing power increased, so did the size of the Baishakh festival-centric economy. Although it was almost at a standstill in the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year the Baishakh-centric economy is gradually reviving.
Non-government research institute Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)’s research director Khondokar Golam Moazzem told Prothom Alo that the small and medium-scale businesses in Bangladesh are festival-centric. Baishakh is a very important festival. Even though due to Ramadan, the amount of trade has not been less than what it could’ve been. Other than that, due to inflation, reduction of purchasing power and uncertainty of lifestyle many low income people couldn’t buy anything for the festival. But still, the revival of the Baishakh-centric economy is a positive sign. The country’s economy will be benefited by it.
There is no accurate statistic on how much Taka’s worth of trade takes place during Pahela Baishakh. But in this festival, the customers are more interested in purchasing local products, which helps the rural economy.
For the New Year’s festival, the customers are most keen to buy new clothes. On Tuesday, in the capital’s New Market, Gausia market, Aziz Super Market and Bashundhara City Shopping Complex people of all ages were flocking to buy clothes. But most of them are buying clothes for the Eid celebration. Baishakhi clothes were seen being sold at the outlets of Deshi Dosh, Arong and some other brands at the Aziz Super Market and Bashundhara City Shopping Complex.
Weaved clothing and block designed dresses are in demand. In the third floor of New Market, there are several shops that do block designs on sarees and three-pieces. Abdullah Matobbor, a craftsman that works in one of those shops said, Baishakh-related work is comparatively less. But there was a good amount of Eid-related work in the early days of Ramadan. In the last few days, the orders have declined a bit. But still, compared to the last two years there is much more business.
In the roadside shops in New Market, customers are lining up to buy clothes. One of the shop owners Md Ismail said, “I don’t know which way the business is going. Earlier, after 4 or 5 Ramadan the business would pick up. This time it’s already 10 Ramadan, but sales have been poorer than even normal times” He is hopeful that the business in footpath shops will pick up from next week.
People of the capital are usually keener to buy Baishakhi clothes. So boutiques and fashion houses start preparing for Baishakh three-four months prior. As the New Year and Eid festivals will take place one after the other, most of the boutiques and fashion houses are making clothes with new designs. The number is up by 10-25 per cent compared to 2019. Many of them have come up with designs that would allow them to sell clothes for both Baishakh and Eid.
Fashion houses organisation Fashion Entrepreneur Association of Bangladesh (FEAB) conducted a survey in 2012. According to it, all fashion houses of the country sell Tk 60 billion worth of products every year. 50 per cent of those sales take place during Eid-ul-Fitr. 25 per cent take place during Pahela Baishakh. The size of the Tk 60 billion market has expanded in the last decade, said the association’s leaders.
Rong Bangladesh’s owner Soumik Das said, "Baishakh is our biggest undivided festival. But as Eid this year is also taking place around the same time, we took preparation accordingly. Many people don’t have the ability to buy separate clothes for two festivals. So we have designed the Baishakhi clothes in such a way that they can also be worn during Eid."
He further said the people are feeling relieved after the stress of Covid. They are now coming out and buying clothes.
"With the current trend of sales, we are hoping that we will sell more than we did in 2019. But it’s not possible to give a separate number of sales for Baishakh," Soumik Das said.
FIAB president Shahin Ahmed said that the Baishakh-centric business is returning. He told Prothom Alo, “Because of Eid, we have a limited Baishakhi clothes collection. But people are showing a lot of interest. We are hoping that we will have pre-Covid business in the Baishakh and Eid festivals.”
The Halkhata tradition is not as widespread as before but many old Dhaka businessmen still start the new year with a new halkhata. They treat their customers, friends and acquaintances with sweets and crisps. Many corporate houses also serve sweets the day after the New Year holiday. That has helped the sweets business. But due to Ramadan, the sweet business has taken a small hit.
Pran Group’s Bongo Baker's sweetshop brand Mithai has 121 outlets across the country. Bongo Bakers’ deputy general manager Kazi Saiful Islam told Prothom Alo, “Before Covid, we used to get seven-eight tonnes of orders for our sweets. This time, due to Ramadan, the amount of orders has been a little low. Still, we have an aim to sell five-six tonnes of sweets. We have received two-three tonnes orders from corporate houses for sweets.”
Although the dish of panta-ilish, a combination of rice soaked in water overnight and hilsa fried, has no connection with the tradition, it has become the part and parcel of the Pahela Baishakh.
That is the reason why people throng the fish market to purchase the national fish ahead of the day. To take this as an opportunity, the sellers increase the price of hilsa. However, due to the holy Ramadan, the panta-ilish festival in the early morning won’t be held this year.
Despite the less demand, the hilsa price hasn’t come down. The fish trader in the capital's Karwan Bazar on Tuesday sold per piece hilsa weighing 1 kg at Tk 1200 to 1500 while an 800-gram-hilsa at Tk 850 to 1100.
Traders said catching hilsa between 1 March and 30 April is banned to save the fries. So, now the fish are being sold in the market preserved in the cold storage long ago.
Along with the dress, sweets and hilsa, the furniture business gets momentum during the Baishakh. Different furniture brands have already offered discounts to attract the buyers.
Hatil managing director Selim H Rahman said, “We expected profitable business after the coronavirus pandemic. However, it did not happen due to the increase in equipment prices and the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
“Apart from that, people's income has increased but their purchasing power has decreased due to high prices of essential commodities. The sales are better than the last two years, but much lower than in 2019,” he added.
Meanwhile, the sale of electronics products, especially air condition (AC), has increased due to the scorching heat. Alongside the AC, the sales of luxury items, including television, refrigerator and camera, are seeing a rise trend, said the traders.
Rangs Electronics Ltd general manager Jane Alam told Prothom Alo that the sale of television has increased by 30-35 per cent to mark the Eid-ul-Fitr. Besides, different appliances, including AC, home theater and camera, are experiencing the upward trend. Hopefully, the sale of other products will rise after the Pahela Baishakh.