[Posted first on Wednesday, January 11, 2006]
At the crossing of AJC Bose Road and Chowringhee Road, across glass façade of Exide’s corporate office, beckons Haldirams’, a popular destination of sweet lovers. As you step inside, door opened for you by a guard in uniform, the din outside fades and a world of spaciousness greets you.
Food counters lay on one side, and along glass panes that separate chaos outside, one can sit and eat while gazing at the bustle on the road that seems surreal. Rows of sumptuous fares await favor, some by their looks need no introduction. There are others which are known when you read the names attached to the trays.
Business proceeds at brisk pace, and I admit to being smitten by overall ambience. A glance around, and one reckons here’s a shop that knows how to reach out.
However, the event that shook me with surprise happened at Olpadwala Hall, not far from Haldirams’. There, at ‘Ananda Madhura’ on 5th, 6th and 7th, one saw unrestrained partaking of Bengali sweets. It felt wonderful to see overflowing congregation of lovers of Lengcha and Mihidana from Burdwan, Chhanapora from Medinipur, Sarpuria from Krishnanagar, Talshansh (aka Jalbhora) from Chandannagore, even Kolkata’s Rosogolla.
Long queues snaked in front of counters, passion often giving in to frustration as the stocks finished many times over. Never before could one imagine that such an event would indeed be thought of – let alone organized – and so it was no wonder that people came only to eat sweets from as far as Kharagpur, Diamond Harbour, Srirampur, Kalyani, you name it.
Coming to think of it, as I headed home after a ‘heady’ experience, I realized that despite my none-too-infrequent trips, I’ve rarely longed for any of those sweets that Haldirams’ sells. To me, most of them taste nearly same, though ingredients vary. I don’t remember having ever taken some home. I suspect it’s just the prospect of whiling away a little time that fetches me there. That the shop falls on the road I travel often is another reason.
I may sound a tad parochial, but the overwhelming success of Bengali sweet festival goes to prove that Bengali sweets far outclass other sweets so far popularity and culinary skills go. That Haldirams’ and others of its ilk too flourish is just a measure of Bengalis’ love for food in general.