Today is Poila Baishakh – the Bengali new year. Poila Baishakh is also known as Haal Khata – at least in the the trading community. Deep was contemplating the scenario 50 years ago in Kolkata.
For the last time Deep’s Mother re-checked “Deep beta, did you keep those rupee-notes carefully”? Like every year, Deep took out those notes from his pockets – a few one rupee notes and and a few two rupee notes, he counted them and nodded his head. “And, I am sure you will remember what to say when you reach each shop” asked his mother. “Yes, I will say – ‘dad is busy and hence he sent me” replied Deep.
This is the “Haal Khata Day” ! A day Deep would await the whole year. On this day every shop in the locality would be decorated with coloured papers, flowers -there will be a few chairs placed in front of each shop, in some there will be music played on those loud speakers – a conical shaped metal gadget which plays really loud ! Haal Khata derived its name from the Khata or the note-book maintained till date in each shop for accounts keeping. It is a red cloth bound foldable note pad in which mostly the accounts of customers – the ones whose payments are long overdue are noted. On this auspices day, the first day of the new year, the shop-keepers expect the customers to clear their dues, if not fully, at least a part payment. A brass-made round collection-plate is kept on a pedestal. And once you pay, you will be greeted with a packet of sweets, and , some shops also present you with a picture-calender.
Deep would set out for celebrating Haal Khata around after-noon, and the first hop will be Robin Babu’s shop – the local tailor. He was the family tailor who stitched clothes for Deep and his three sisters – of course with a part payment and Robin Babu would expect a good payment on this Haal Khata day. Deep would repeat that heavily practiced dialogue “Dad is busy and hence he sent me” and then Deep would place a two rupee note on the brass-plate. Robin Babu would note down the payment in his new note book (haal khata). And with a broad smile hand over the sweet packet. Deep would quietly slip a couple of sweets in his mouth and proceed to the next shop.
The next halt would be Dhiren Babu, the grocer. Here the orderal would be a bit stiff. Once the money is placed on the collection plate, Dhiren Babu obviously would normally quipp “ Your dad should have sent more money, but may be he never wanted to send big amount through you – after all you are a small kid” ! Then he would hand over a small plate full of a variety of sweets. Dhiren Babu always kept a large number of chairs and insisted that the guests sit there for a while and eat the sweets on the spot. After all it is a celebration – he felt.
By the time Deep would reach Pal’s Shop, it would be evening. The Pal’s stationery shop was owned by two brothers. Here the shop’s New Year decoration would be elaborate. The Pal brothers and a good number of their relatives would be present there, mostly clad in new clothes. Deep would take out rest of the rupees from his pockets and place them on the collection tray. Deep always enjoyed to come to this shop because their welcome was always very affectionate. They would hand over four packets of sweets to Deep and add “eat the sweets of this one packet, and carry home the other three for your sisters !” Once Deep finished eating the sweets his stomach would be more than full and he would slowly walk towards home and say to himself “Shuv Haal Khata”.
(written on 14th April, 2016)