Pujor Chandaa

Sudipta Bhawmik

niramishasi webFinally 2005 Pujo is here. In this Garden State of ours, Kallol has started their celebration yesterday (Friday) evening and GSCA will start theirs from today. Are you all ready to hit the doors of Ukrainian Community Center or Plainfield High School? As you attempt to enter the doors, you’ll encounter few somber looking gentlemen sitting behind a linen covered desk with few preprinted stationary and scattered ball point pens. Yes, you now need to pull out your check book and be ready to shell out few dollars from your savings. The question is how much? The gentleman behind the desk will point you to a preprinted piece of paper with a heading which reads something like, “Suggested Donation”. For few moments you will struggle with the word, “suggested”. It may occur to you that the shocking amounts below those lines are mere suggestions only. No one is forcing you to pay that amount. However, after some deep contemplation and few tacit exchanges, finally you will succumb to both internal and external pressures and write that check for the full amount that was asked for. For the next few minutes, this episode will keep on pinching you. Soon enough you’ll forget the unpleasant feeling and get involved in the festivities, until next year when this issue will again surface at the parties and get-togethers. The debate undoubtedly will be that why these Pujo organizers can charge such astronomical amounts? After all what do they offer?

Let’s think about this issue for a moment. Is it justified for the organizers to demand the contribution they are asking for?

goatmeat webFor the past few years, these two major Pujos of NJ are celebrating their festivals on the same weekend, breaking a long tradition of having them on separate weekends, primarily to manage the logistics. First of all, reservation of these venues on specific targeted weekends is a difficult task. Secondly, this simultaneous celebration, divides the crowd which has grown over the years to such an extent that the fire marshals of the respective towns would be forced to shut down the event if the crowd skews to any particular direction. However, this division of crowd has caused some financial strains on the organizers. The cost of organizing these festivals is also shooting through the roof. The venues are demanding higher rent every year. To accommodate the increase in crowd, we need to set up tents outdoors. Only few years ago, we remained quite satisfied with the entertainment programs presented by our local artists and performers. Now we demand the top performers from Kolkata, maybe even Mumbai. This translates to increased expense. Then comes the question of food. Goat curry seems to be consistent debate. Just check out the price of a pound of goat meat in your local halal meat store. Now you do the math. Think about it, just to attend a show of these performers that we get to watch during the Pujo, will cost much more than what we pay as chandaa. Then factor in the food and fun, I think you’ll find that you are coming out much ahead.

Please join in the debate. Send me your comments and your thoughts on this issue.
Wish you a great Pujo.

Sudipta Bhawmik

7 thoughts on “Pujor Chandaa

  1. From Dipak Chaudhuri:

    My association with Durga puja is from the first puja at Columbia university, 1970.The donation expected at that time $5.Some people were reluctant to pay $5 at that time.Now suggested donation is $75 to $100.Some people still feel the pinched to pay that amount for family of two, three, four etc.With inflation, cost of every thing is now ten fold and bringing professional artists from India( it is competition now), for entertainment ,cost has increased 100%, since old days we did not pay our local artists.
    My suggestion will be , as we pay for every good and service in our real life,we should pay similarly during puja.The suggested price tag shall be for basic puja.Rest shall be for what you cosume.For dinner, entertainment charge seperately.This is what is done during Banga Sanmillan.Puja committee can make some money from the vendors and use that for renting halls and cleanup operation.
    Dipak Choudhuri

  2. This is an issue which has been much debated in the past. There will always be people who would like to piggy back on the honest payer of the Chandaa and also boast about it later.
    I have a suggestion to make going forward. There should be some discount for the Kallol Members. This year the Chandaa was $ 50.00 per person. I suggest next year let us have $ 40.00 per person for Members and $ 60.00 per person for non-members. This will either get everyone to become members or give the commitee enough funds from non members to meet the expenses. Members should be given ID along with their annual subscription.
    Baskar Menon

  3. What is astronomical? In the realm of prices and inflation everything is out of reach today by yesterday’s standard. Look at the bright side, today’s astronomical cost will be rock-bottom tomorrow.
    Like the cost of any other goods and services there is no comfortable level for “chandaa”. Market forces will decide it, rule of supply and demand. The commodity was scarce and the demand was so high that a large number of subscribers willing to pay high prices, had to be turned back at a local Puja. In order to bring “Chandaa’ down, increase the supply; have more Pujas, more the merrier and cheaper.
    Competition will improve the quality, one hopes. Officials will not take the market for granted and will build a better outdoor tent making it unnecessary for us to wade through the mud for three days of deluge, will find local artists who can sing in tune, get Calcutta artists who can cater to the majority of the attendees. But for now, don’t blame the provider of the service; they are selling at a price what the market bears and we are buying ungrudgingly, from all evidence, gladly.
    After all by today’s standard 100 or 200 dollars for three days of food, adda, Calcutta artists and above all an opportunty to show off wardrobe of new sarees is not a bad deal. It is definitely a better bargain than spending $25 to $50.00 and sitting through two to three torturous hours of inane and poorly produced dramas , post post modern poetry reading by not so gifted poets or the absurdity of listening to the English translation of Sukumar Ray poems ( in front of 100% Bengalee speaking audience). To their credit the Puja organizers do not force it down our throat as the local retail performers do.
    The cost of Goat meat or Calcutta artists are not the only culprits. The organizers have aged. In spite of all the clamor about younger people to take charge the bulk of the heavy lifting behind the scene is still done by one or two older persons and the need to subcontract the work, almost all physical work except singing and dancing on the stage, is understandable. Sub-contracting raises cost.
    The much heralded second generation has never arrived. The Pujas are still an affair of Indian born Bengalees, young and old, with the rare and pleasant exception of White American “Jamaais”.

    Amitava Sen

  4. Let me be one of the protesting voices. I also made my concerns known to the Kallol Puja Committee. I was in this email discussion with Amitabha-da(Bagchi) where we were wondering as to the cost of the Puja from which we can argue whether the price was too high or adequate. I would start from an argument that because this is a non-profit organization the price should not/need not be what the market will bear. The price of attending Kallol Durga Puja should not be like the price of oil- ie it should not be market driven, it should be cost-based . What does everybody else feel?

    Let me lay down a very simplistic calculation and then have people tell me that I am completely wrong. Let me estimate that Kallol plans a $50000 puja and raises about $10000 through vendors and the souvenir ads. That means $40000 needs to be funded through chaanda. If we have 400 paying families paying $100 each then we are covered. Let say we have only 300 paying families, then cut out the ‘pork’ and try to save a $10000 there. We obviously do not need to be having ‘goat curry’ if it inflates the price. This line of logic can be continued by somebody who has the real numbers but I will not go further than this.

    If market forces do come into the picture then it is obvious there is a market/need for a less high-priced Puja within this area.


  5. Puja Contribution

    creditchaanda wt webFirst I want to congratulate Sudipta for providing us with a very useful public forum to discuss our community affairs. As past Chairman of Durga Puja committee and president of Kallol, I must emphasize the Durga Puja expenses are ever increasing and becoming very difficult to budget in accordance with the expected attendance. The variable expenses such as facility rent, tent rental and goat meet dinner is getting difficult to estimate because of either increasing cost or unforeseen township enforcement for fire code and or other code requirements.
    I am not going to pass any judgment on what our patron should pay to enjoy the three- day festival in terms of their donation. The spirit of Durga Puja should not be compared with service provided to our community but the cost of the puja should be met with appropriate revenue collection and managing controllable expenses. Let’s us see the Puja cost vs. revenue:
    Let’s say the average 500 families attend Kallol Durga Puja celebration. If we estimate 2.5 persons per family then the total attendance are 1250 people. If we appeal $75 donation per family, we raise $37,500 as gate collection. Please note, beginning 2002 the committee was successful in collecting brochure advertisement in excess of $17,000 and average $5,500 from vendors. This gives us a total collection of approximately $60,000.
    Hall rental for 3 days with tent $ 22,000 (variable)
    Food for 500 family 15,000 (variable)
    Entertainment 10,000 (controllable)
    Printing and mailing 2,000 (controllable)
    Stage light 3000 (controllable)
    Puja exp 3,000 (variable)
    Contingent 5,000
    Total $ 60,000

    Above calculation are based on past experience. Please note if the gate collection fall or advertisement revenue does not meet projected amount Kallol has to sustained losses. This is why pressure always mounts on the executive committee. There are no specific solutions, but effort should be made to raise sufficient revenue so that Kallol does not sustained any losses. In my opinion $75 donation per family is fair and reasonable.

  6. baarite chaanda webIf organizers really want to democratize the celebration and cater to the majority, then along with the brochures, it may be a good idea to publish the projected expenses and a poll form to solicit feedback from participants on issues that are important to them.
    Some poll questions could be:
    Are you OK with buying food rather than having it served free, if that curtails the puja budget (and chandaa) by 25%?
    If goat curry eats up more than 50% of the food budget, should we persist with it?
    What type of entertainment do you prefer: (Rank 1-5 in order of preference)
    Local artistes/ Imported icons/ Classical music/Dance/etc/ ..etc.

    Otherwise it does not matter what the public says; you have a group that celebrates Puja; either join them and play by their rules or stay away. The organizers work very hard towards making the Puja a success and I am afraid that critical comments on chandaa might undermine their efforts and motivation.

    From Purnada’s budget, it seems that $75 is the threshold for break-even. Being a non-profit organization, the general public should understand that Kallol contributes towards many of our cultural activities outside the realm of Durga Puja. ( like Ananda Mandir etc). The surplus chandaa should be invested towards promoting other cultural activities like drama, ldevelopment of local talent, Bengali movies, language development etc which happen throughout the year. With knowledge of such utilization of funds, I believe the paying public would refrain from being skeptical about the $100 chandaa.
    Without a proper understanding of all the activities and the budget, many are inclined to think that $100 as chandaa for Puja is debatable.

    However the organizers should be cognizant of the fact that Durga Puja is meant to bring the community together for celebration on a common platform. You do not want to exclude the average family from enjoying the Puja ambience due to the price tag of the celebration.
    Can an average family be part of the Puja ambience ( dhak , adda, chaa, etc ..) without participating in the inflationary items like goat meat and other non-essential items that come as accessories with the Pujas? Should some gatekeepers be vested the authority of control of ‘ Pratima Darshan’ ? I believe that ‘Pratima Darshan’ is a birthright of every Bengali, and it is unfair to link it to a statutory contribution. We have to find a means to ensure that that there is a way to participate in the religious side of the Pujas without having to participate in the accessories.

  7. As an attendee to the Pujo, I have always felt the entire Puja operation highlights the lack of proper organization at all levels! If an event costs me about $100 to attend with my family, it better be good. I mean, ‘good’. You cannot expect that people will pay that money, when all the ‘Pujo’ organizers have to show is complete chaos at the dinner place, entertainment with poor acoustics and noisy audience. For one thing, the ‘pujo’ itself doesn’t feel like ‘pujo’ at all. The atmosphere is completely chaotic.

    From the suggestion box:

    One needs to distinguish between different kind of attendees. Not everybody wants to see the entertainment show. Give them a viable option to opt out. For those who want to see the entertainment, give them the best experience their money can buy under similar ticket prices. Here you are catering to essetially a savvy consumer only on the basis of ‘ back-home sentiment’ That cannot work in the long run.

    Here is my suggestion. 1. For basic pujo attendance, charge as little as you can: about $5 per person(?). That should cover pujo and prosad (not dinner with goat meat!!). For that money, you owe the attendees a good decoration of the Pujo pandel, pujo, anjali, dhunuchi naach, aarati, shindoor khela — every thing that is associated with proper event of Durga puja. This way, you attract and satisfy those people who are trying to enjoy ‘puja’ only.

    2. For the nightly entertainments and dinner along with basic pujo package: charge whatever you desire, because they are the commited lot. This way, you can attract and retain those who are interested in the complete pujo package: entertainment and all. Have an entirely separate ticketing system. And “inform’ the people of their choices before the event.

    Categorizing your target market/customers in a clear and concise way will stop ‘piggy back rides’ and yet bring more donations in the long run. To achieve this goal, I would create two entirely separate sub committees to oversee the functions. The pujo sub committee should be responsible for making “the core pujo experience the best ever”. While the entertainment subcommitee should be responsible for the entertainment and dinner only. But whatever you do, please do it well!! Compare your organizational performance with other American events, and don’t give that ‘better than other Indian’ analogy. You are in America !!

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