In a secluded corner of a godown in the walled city of Ahmedabad, Ahmed Barkat (64) leans over a long red book which gives him the final touch. The chopda or bahi-khata, as these account books are called, is being prepared for the businessman to perform the âchopda pujanâ in Diwali, now mainly used symbolically, after most offices computerized their accounts and sales of these books have dropped by almost half.
In Hindu tradition, Diwali is considered the last day of the financial year. All commercial accounts for the previous year are closed before this puja.
In Diwali, businessmen perform puja on their account books and keep them ready for the start of the next Hindu year which begins at Labh Pancham, five days after Diwali.
This centuries-old tradition of account book worship is a form of âMuhurtaâ Puja for businessmen, which signifies the start of a new year.
Barkat is one of a thousand Muslim families in the walled city district of Ahmedabad who still keep these books of account for local businessmen.
âI’ve been doing these books for 40-45 years. Only members of Muslim families are involved in this work. It is a difficult job to manually fold the pages of these books and bind them together, âexplains Barkat, who is the last member of this family engaged in the making of these books. âPreviously we were making 250 books a day, now those numbers are barely 100 a day. It depends on the orders that come in. We start making these books five months before Diwali,â he said.
Naresh Shah, president of the Kagdi Bazaar Stationery Merchant Association, a group of 500 stores near the Fernandes Bridge (built by the British) in the walled city of Ahmedabad, says they together sell Rs 15 crore of “chopda” or books traditional accounts every year during Diwali.
âIt is part of the city that Emperor Ahmed Shah founded. From time immemorial, the accounts books were drawn up in particular by the community âbaniyaâ. They started the accounting year at Diwali. Although things have changed and we follow an April to March accounting year where many file the GST (Goods and Services Tax), there are several small traders and businessmen, including jewelers and supply store owners who still follow this centuries-old Hindu tradition, âsays Shah who also operates a paper mill at Fernandes Bridge. According to Shah, these account books are ordered during Pushya Nakshatra and Dhanteras. “But it is Diwali day, these books are revered,” he added.
During the âchopda pujanâ, special prayers are offered before Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi and their blessings are sought. In their books of accounts, at the very beginning, the businessmen according to the Hindu sect that they follow write “Shubh” meaning auspicious and “Labh” meaning merit or profit as a means of invoking the two deities.
Most also design a swastika symbol (for good fortune and prosperity).
âBooks that contain daily entries for sales and other cash transactions are still used in this modern era. The sale of these traditional books has dropped by more than 50 percent since 2006, when computers became a maintenance medium for businesses, âsaid Shah, who employs 10 Muslim workers to create these traditional account books.
Pathik Patwari, director of Ahmedabad-based Nexus Infratech Pvt Ltd, said that despite the digitization of all company accounts, his family and staff members continue to celebrate the âchopda pujanâ ceremony during Diwali.
âWhen my father worked for a company in the late 1970s, they ran chopda pujan. Later, when my father started his own factory unit in Naroda, this tradition continued. At that time, before the advent of personal computers, we used to have over 400 chopda or account books for the whole year, âPatwari said.
âWe now get one account book per company and we hold the ceremony at our head office in Law Garden. The notebooks and pens used during the puja are used for the first time in Labh Pancham (five days after Diwali) when we return to our office or Saatham (after seven days), âPatwari added. For Chopda pujan, there are three schedules: Udayakaala Pustak Pujan, Madhyahnakaala Pustak Pujan and Sayamkala Pustak Pujan. Among the three, Madhyahnakaala Pustak pujan is considered very auspicious. Between Diwali and Labh Pancham, all business entities remain closed in Gujarat.