This time of the year, Jhuma, 34, would have been busy preparing to push off for her parental home in Dibrugarh. She would be mall hopping and making multiple trips to her favourite shops to buy new dresses for herself and her relatives and stuffing them inside her suitcases and handbags, already bursting with clothes and other essentials. “But this year I am scared to visit my parents. For the first time after my marriage in 2006, I will be spending Durga puja in Siliguri and for the first time in my life, I am shopping for saris and salwars online,” she said.

Every year, come Durga puja, various businesses related to the biggest festival of the state to get rejuvenated – from idol-making to flower growers and sellers, and from decorators to dhakis. But this year it is different. A marginal decline in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country and a slight drop in the overall case fatality rate may have led the residents of north Bengal to plan for more than a low-key festivity, but the festive season may still turn out to be a damp squib for businesses.

Bikash Jana, a flower-shop owner near Hashmi Chowk in Siliguri, said that the Durga puja market was huge and diverse, which included idolmaking, dresses, jewellery, flower business, dhakis, decorators and music groups. “Lakhs of rupees are spent even on a small Durga puja pandal on these indispensable components of the festival. But as there will be small pandals and a sedate immersion of idols this year, all related businesses have fallen flat. Besides, as many markets are closed, there is absolutely no business for flower traders as well as for farmers who grow flowers, who are now suffering huge losses,” he said.

From Ganesh Chaturthi to Jagadhatri puja, festivals in the region come knocking for three months at a stretch, which call for new dresses and jewellery. But the coronavirus pandemic this year has forced people to celebrate the festival in a simple way.

Ajay Das, the owner of a garment shop in Hawkers’ Corner in Siliguri, said there was almost 60 per cent dip in their sales this year due to the surge in Covid-19 cases in the town during the past two months. “During Durga puja, Bhaiphonta, Laxmi puja and Diwali, the clothes at the shops and stores in our market complex are in great demand across the entire Siliguri subdivision.

But this time, sales are significantly down mainly because the purchasing power of people is miserably low owing to the pandemic this year. By this time, we would have sold almost 80 per cent of our stocks.

This time, we could sell less than 40 per cent. There has been a slight rise in business from the past few days, but we do not know if it will sustain,” he said adding that the rent and transportation cost have remained the same, which is hitting them harder.