Patwarbagan Binders Hub

Megha Marik

Calcutta grew out of the cloth market of Sutanuti and perhaps because of its history the city has innumerable bazaars, some organised others mushrooming due to certain contributing factors. For instance, the binder’s market of Patwarbagan near Sealdah owes its origin to the paper market of adjoining Baithakkhana market. Since the supply point is nearby, Patwarbagan has seen the growth of an unorganised market which deals with the making of notebooks, diaries, writing pads, envelopes and many more products. The best part, everything is made by hand and Patwarbagan offers a bargain despite the rising cost of labour and paper.

Sealdah and its adjoining neighbourhoods have several bazaars tucked in the nooks and corners. Fruits, vegetables, book binding, printing blocks – all are sold as specialised products in these bazaars hidden away in the web of lanes and by-lanes. Among them, Patwarbagan is one of the largest markets for binding and packaging. It is a market only a few know about unless they deal with it, yet it is very much alive and a thriving business. Boxes, cartons, binders, envelopes, diaries and notebooks – are a few of the many products sold here. In order to reach this place, one would have to park their car beside Victoria Institution in Rajabazar, and walk through the lane called Patwarbagan Lane. The municipal signboards marking the area make it quite easy to locate. Enter the narrow lane just beside Victoria Institution, and get suddenly transported to an entirely different land filled with chaos. Stretched across two lanes is one of the largest wholesale markets for stationery items and the multifarious binding and packaging process.

Binding Process
Most of the shops are tiny and yet are always buzzing with customers queuing up in front of them. Most of the exercise books and notebooks are manually made from scratch. A shopowner who specialises in diaries and notebooks stated that there are around 60 kinds of diaries and notebooks sold in his shop. On asking about the process of binding and compilation, he explained that they have their own warehouses where the entire production process is laid out. The use of mechanisation is minimal and most of the processes are carried out by hand. There are different stages to the process. Another shop owner specialising in binding explained, “There are three main stages of the binding process – cutting, setting and pasting”. These three stages are then sub-divided in other smaller steps by the labourers themselves. The process starts with the papers of the book or the notebook that are gathered together. The printing and procurement of the paper are done from the nearby market at Baithakhana Lane. The paper for the notebooks is Indian produce and is manufactured in other states of the country. The market at Baithakhana, and this one at Patwarbagan have a symbiotic relationship since they support each other. In fact, Patwarbagan is an ancillary business of Baithakhana.

The paper obtained is then cut and sized according to the given specifications provided by the vendor. Cutting the paper according to size is the main aspect of the entire process and requires a lot of time important tool during this entire process. Following this, the papers are stitched together into small bundles depending on the total number of pages asked by the customer. The small bundles make it easier for the book to be more compact and hold the glue together easily.

The covers for the book are sorted and sized by a different set of workers. Around 2-3 men work on the cutting, shaping and design of the cover. After the pages of the book are sized, they are put in the cover, matched and re-matched a couple of times. This is done to ensure that the book is shaped properly and the finish is good, because once the adhesive is applied, these mistakes cannot be undone. After the adhesive is applied, the book is kept for drying and finishing. The time taken for the entire process depends on the number of books ordered for in a single lot. A shopkeeper pointed out: “A single lot from my shop consists of 10,000 pieces of different varieties of books, notebooks and diaries.” Asked how much time it takes to make a single lot, he confided: “at least a week”. The wholesale rate of these notebooks range from a meagre Rs 20 per piece to Rs 500 per piece.

A similar process is followed for the envelopes. The paper is cut according to shape and size by hand, adhesive is applied and the paper is then folded in the shape of envelopes. A worker is particularly entrusted with the job of sorting the finished envelopes so as to prevent them from sticking to each other. About 25 envelopes are folded in 30 seconds- isn’t that an amazing fact!

Around 4-5 people are required to finish one envelope through its various stages. A bunch consists of 50 envelopes. The prices vary for the size and length of the envelopes; the smaller post card sized ones are usually Rs 20-40 per bunch, depending on the quality of the paper. The larger ones, which are used for official documents, are generally Rs 50-60 per bunch. Retailers generally buy boxes of envelopes and sell them for around Re 1 per piece, thereby making a tidy profit.

Although notebooks are always in demand given the current education system, the traders of Patwarbagan do not enjoy the fruits of their labour since retailers buy from them at abysmal low rate but sale at a much higher price. Hence, due to stiff competition, despite the good sales, the profit margin is not so high.

Handcrafted Traditions
“Our profit margin is very less though sales are good, “said a shop owner at Patwarbagan. Initially hesitant to talk, the shopkeeper explained how the market is a niche market which has issues with licenses and permits. Since the profit margin is very low, most of the shops in the market are not registered with the government to avoid paying taxes and duties. Shopkeepers are interested in creating a more systematic and organised infrastructure, however, they have not been able to convince the government as of yet. “We want the benefits of an organised market. We even started discussion with the government. Since most of these are handmade items, we have been urging for the handicraft tag for our products,” said one of the shopowners. Established in 2006, the Craft mark initiative helps genuine Indian handicrafts in developing sector wise minimum standards and norms for labelling a product as a handicrafts product, and increases consumer awareness about distinct handicraft traditions. In order to be competitive in the market place these workers need assistance in developing their enterprises and skills in a manner that allows them to compete in efficient modern markets by evolving innovative marketing and design possibilities. Since this niche market is selling similar products and there is minimum specialisation and mechanisation; in order to support the traders, if the government brings them under the Craftmark initiative, then these traders will be able to compete steadily and also enjoy a healthy profit margin.“Since everything is handmade we had demanded that we should get the Craftmark symbol. They have done similar things in Kerala and as a result duties and taxes have gone down. However, it has not happened here so far,” said ashop owner who was not keen to be identified. It is due to lack of valid licenses and permits, the insecure traders and shop owners were willing to talk only on conditions of anonymity.

So next time when you need to buy diary, calendar, notebooks in bulk, instead of heading to a fancy stationery shop in your neighbourhood, head for Patwarbagan and go easy on your pocket.