It is the time of the year when New Year calendars and diaries begin trickling in. Wall calendars, desk top calendars, planners, pocket diaries, notebook-like diaries, take your pick.
In my childhood, calendars were wall adornments for the middle class; a status symbol even if you managed to get the right ones. Each self-respecting household had multiple calendars hanging from the walls all across the house.
Not that calendars were easy to obtain. Shopkeepers would roll up the coveted object, slip a rubber band on it, and surreptitiously hand it to their customers. If you were a not-so-important customer, you had to specifically ask for a “new year gift” and depending on the merchant’s assessment of your potential business value you might receive one of these coveted item. Or he could even hand out a small pocket calendar and be done with his customer service obligations.
My father, a college teacher, was a well known person in town. He had taught either the businessmen or their offspring who would gladly offer him calendars. He would also receive the classier stuff from the various factories in the city, Tisco, Telco (rather rarely), Indian Cable and some others.
One of the earliest calendars we would get each year was from a hosiery shop called Chaudhary Bros. located in the lane near Manohar Maharaj in Bishtupur. And this signal to us the calendar season.
The primary purpose of calendars was not as you may think keeping track of dates/days but they served other more important uses.
For example, an adornment in the Puja room in addition to the images and statues of Gods already installed there. The popular deities were Goddess Laxmi (calendars from jewelers), Goddess Sarasvati (from the book sellers), makhanchor Krishna. A composite picture of Lord Ram, Sita and Laxman with Hanuman genuflecting on the feet of Ram was a common image on calendars and these would come mostly from the kirana shop owners. Image of Hanuman was also popular; Hanuman tearing apart his chest with Lord Ram inside it, Hanuman flying back to Lanka carrying Meru Parvat on the palm of his out-stretched right hand.
There was this popular calendar visual of a collage of images of freedom fighters, Mahatma Gandhi in the middle, with a galaxy of personalities around him: Pandit Nehru (complete with the red rose affixed to the lapel of his sherwani), Netaji Bose in his INA regalia, Shastri ji wearing his Gandhi cap, Ramprasad Bismil twirling his moustache, a clean-shaven hat-bedecked Shahid Bhagat Singh. The final selection from among these icons was a mix of naram dal and garam dal, perhaps to appeal to the followers of either stream. These calendars would come from any business enterprise wanting to show their patriotic leanings. Such calendars were mostly reserved for the space above the kids’ study table, probably to inculcate into the child patriotic fervour and general discipline.
I am old enough to remember the iconic Murphy radio calendar; the Caucasian Murphy baby smiling from the walls with his (her?) right forefinger nestled oh-so-cutely on his lower lip. THE Murphy baby who was the dream of many an expectant mother! This calendar was of course the preserve of the local electrical goods dealer. Our favourite dealer those days was Beri Radios located in Bishtupur.
All these calendar designs were in their best attempted version of Raja Ravi Verma’s style. The only departure was that these were printed on near map litho quality paper and with pretty garish colour schemes. The layout of the calendars were pretty identical: 60% of the area devoted to the visual, 20% to the name and address of the shop, and the remaining portion of the calendar supported stapled horizontal paper strips, each displaying three months at a glance. So on 31st March you would tear off the first sheet to welcome April, next strip went on 30th June to reveal the July-August-September dates and so on.
While I may have referred to different classes of traders having preferences to different deities, many would hedge their bets and distribute calendars with multiple designs. Like this famous Jamshedpur jeweler Chhaganlal Dayalji who would also distribute large calendars bereft of pictures. One month per sheet, and only dates. Dates for Sundays and holidays used to be printed in red (others in black) and the blank spaces would explain what the red-letter days meant (holi, diwali, id, independence day etc). The blank spaces around the dates were used at home to note quantity of milk delivered by the doodhwalla, number of garments given to the dhobhi for laundry, days when the paperwallah did not deliver the newspaper, etc. etc. Most practical, you will agree.
There were other types of calendars too.
The ones on glossy paper with one month to a sheet. But unlike Chhaganlal Dayaljee’s calendar, these had a large picture and under this the dates/ days printed in one or two rows. Very classy!
If I remember correctly, the ones from paint or hardware merchants were made of thickish cardboard – incorporating a religious motif, of course- with a stapled block of little square pieces. One piece for each date. Every morning you needed to tear off the preceding day’s piece. Each piece detailed the entire astrology around the date/day.
There was this rather classy calendar from a Jamshedpur based company called INCAB- Indian Cable Company. Kebul company as it was called colloquially in Jamshedpur. They would release each year a stiff-board calendar layered with sheets displaying two months at a time. The layout was clean and uncluttered. There was a plastic strip running horizontally around the calendar which could be slid down every week to position the red plastic window affixed to it which would highlight the date.
I have not indicated this earlier and I must do it now. A key role of the calendars was to conceal defects on the walls. There were no blotches or scratches on the wall which could not get covered with the aid of a strategically hung calendar.
Now wait. Some of the wall defects were caused by calendars themselves. You see, the calendars sheets were affixed to a thin strip of metal and hung on a silky loop affixed to the center of the strip. During breezy days the calendar would oscillate and over a period of time would leave arcs scratched on the wall at either end on the strip. So in came new calendars to cover these scratches. And these would leave their own marks over the following twelve months.
In case the calendar was a multi-sheeter, the month’s sheet was folded back onto the “spine” at the end of the month. Tearing off the elapsed month’s sheet was a no-no. The sheet had to be rolled back. The reason was simple; a calendar became thinner- and hence lighter- once sheets were torn off and this increased the chances of the calendar swinging around leaving more and more marks.
The temptation to tear off the calendar sheets is easy to understand, we were keen to cover our books with these sheets. But this process had to wait. Once the year was over, each of us siblings would grab whatever calendar we could get hold of, dust off the layers of dirt- and cobwebs- accumulated on the sheets over the year and use the blank side of the sheet to cover our books. The glossier the calendar the more coveted it was.
It has been years since I hung calendars on the walls of my house. In fact, I give away all the stuff I receive. There are too many time reminders around for me to ever need the services of a calendar. The laptop and the cell phone display calendars not only for the year but also for years past and future.
No, I do not need a printed calendar around me.
But yes, in recent years I did once seek a calendar. Very classy, very coveted, very elegantly done. But the problem was it was not available either for money or for love. Till a colleague of mine, through his contacts, managed to get one for me. But it never got hung on the wall of either my study or my living room. Or even my bedroom. It got tucked into the box-bed, away from the eyes of the world- and my kids- minutes after I had gone through it many times over.
That was the much talked about, but rarely seen among the common public, the famous Kingfisher calendar! In case you have never heard of it, then I shall not try to explain it to you. In case you have heard of it, and not seen it, then please drop by at our place for a cup of tea. That would be quite inappropriate for the occasion, a mug of beer would be more apt!