Shopping complexes and roadside shops are teeming with customers on the occasion of Pahela Baishakh, the first day of Bangla New Year, a traditonal festival of Bangalees.
Clothes of all fashions and colour are on sale in the shops and online too. Banks, both private and state-owned, as well as other financial institutions and corporate houses have special greetings and gifts for their clients on the occasion.
A number of businessmen said Baishakhi economy grows every year. Over the last four years or so, government officials, employees, teachers, army officers and employees have been receiving 20 per cent festival allowance of their basic pay on Pahela Baishakh. Private bankers and employees are also getting Baishakhi festival bonus. All sorts of social and company events are also increasing on Pahela Baishakh. Business activities centring Baishakh are spreading from the capital to the rural areas.
There are no official statistics regarding financial transactions on Pahela Baishakh. Business leaders and economists believe there is a business of several billion taka. Consumers buy local products during Baishakh and this is the difference between Baishakh and Puja and Eids. The rural economy becomes robust due to increased sales on Pahela Baishakh.
On the occasion of Pahela Baishakh, the demand for new clothes is very high. While visiting different shopping complexes including Aziz Super Market, Bashundhara City, New Market, Gausia and Bangabazar for the last three days, huge numbers of people were seen thronging the shops.
Hawkers also display Baishakhi outfits on the footpath for low income people. But hawkers were not seen at Motijheel and Paltan area this year to sell Baishakhi items as they were not permitted.
Small and medium industries have grown at different areas including Old Dhaka, Keraniganj, Kaliganj and Narayanganj to supply clothes for the people across the country.
According to the Local Dress Making Owners Association, an association of six thousand factories, garments of arount Tk 150 billion are sold across the country during Pahela Baishakh.
"The garment business is festival centric. Baishakh is the biggest festival, after Eid and Puja. About 10 to 15 years ago, garment sales was limited on the occasion. But now sales have multiplied. Retailers sell clothes at different outlets after buying these from the wholesale market in Keraniganj and Kaliganj. Sales of Baishaki wear have gone up by 20 per cent this year," association president Alauddin Malik told Prothom Alo.
Fashion house owners association, Bangladesh Fashion Entrepreneurs Association, has surveyed the sales of their fashion houses. According to the survey, clothes of about Tk 80 billion are sold throughout the year. And of this, 50 per cent is on Eid-ul-Fitr and 25-28 per cent on Pahela Baishakh.
Executive member of fashion entrepreneurs, Azharul Haque, said the sales of Baishakh are mainly on the last three to four days before the new year. The sales are 10 to 15 per cent higher than last year.
Popular brand Aarong marketing department assistant general manager Tanvir Hossain said, “We were afraid as Pahela Baishakh and Eid are very close this year. But eventually sales were good on Pahela Baishakh”.
Pilion Group’s fashion brand is Sailor. The group’s managing director Riaz Uddin Al Mamun said their sales are better this year than that of the previous year.
Halkatha is part and parcel of Pahela Baishakh. The traders entertain buyers with sweets on Pahela Baishakh. But currently the enthusiasm of Halkhatha has faded. Many still maintain the custom of entertaining with sweets. Bands and corporate houses join the custom. They are offering sweets to their clients. As a result, the sales of sweets increase four fold on Pahela Baishakh. Around 29-25 per cent of the total sweets sold throughout the year are sold on Pahela Baishakh.
Pran Group sweets brand Mithai gets orders of 30-35 tonnes from 50 organisations on Pahela Baishakh. Their factory at Kalyanpur produces 10-12 tonnes of sweets every day since 9 April. Normally they produce three tonnes of sweets a day.
Mithai chief operation officer Animesh Saha said, “We got sale orders of ten tonnes of sweets from 25 organisations. The order increased three fold this year.”
Although there is actually no link with Bengali culture, pantha and hisha have become central to Baishakhi celebration. There is a competition among city dwellers to buy hilsha. The traders preserve this fish ahead of two to three months to supply additional demand. Despite this, the price is very high. This year was no exception. The entusiasm about hilsa decreased somewhat over the last two years after being criticised on the social media.
Fish trader at Karwan Bazar, Shukkur Ali, sold a hilsa of 700-750 grams for Tk 3,000 and 800-900 grams for Tk 5200. A few days ago, he sold a hilsa of 800-900 grams for Tk 3500. He said, “Sales are good. There is no high competition like in the past.”
Many planned to celebrate Pahela Baishakh at Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Khagrachhari, Rangamati and Sylhet. Some went abroad. Tour operator owners association director Syed Shafat Uddin Ahmed said the number of tourists is low as there were no additional holidays and school was also open.
“Some people are going to Bali of Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Costs are low it is off-season.”
Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) director Khondaker Golam Moazzem said Pahela Baishakh is a universal festival. This is the difference between Eid and Puja. People are drawn towards local products on this festival. The people connected with the rural economy are benefited from this.
But the big share of profit goes to the pockets of urban businessmen. If the producers in villages are facilitated to sell their products to the buyers directly, the rural economy will be boosted. In that case, e-commerce Alibaba can be an example. The organisation has created facilities to sell rural products directly.
* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been written in English by Rabiul Islam