23 September 2018 05:52 AM

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SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 16 NOVEMBER, 2017

Finally, the Rosogolla is Back Where It Belongs, And With Reason Too!

Finally, the Rosogolla is Back Where It Belongs, And With Reason Too!


Strange but true that, despite the controversy (with Odisha raising claims) around the rosogolla’s ethnic origins and identity, in an age of globalization, the rosogolla still largely defines the Bengali identity across the world.

It is often humorously compared with the average Bengali's enunciation of his spoken language, rounded and curved and juicy like the rosogolla. This small, white and round spongy ball of magic soaked and filled with sugar syrup has transcended borders of caste, race, colour and geography to reach the most distant shores of the world. Klaus Eder, a German film critic, would ask for a whole box of rosogollas during his visits to Kolkata.

The term rosogolla is also used as a descriptive adjective to connote the physical features of a person such as, 'his face is as round as a rosogolla' or, 'she looks as sweet as a rosogolla.' It is also used in a derogatory sense when kids draw a zero in any exam. "He has got a rosogolla in math" means he got a zero in mathematics. The rosogolla has carved its place in the colloquial Bengali lexicon in a metaphorical sense that goes beyond its literal meaning.

Why did this white magic ball descend in Bengal and continues to reign over the large kingdom of Bengali sweets? Sugarcane grew in abundance in the state in the 19th century. Most of it went into making sweets. The cane extract was boiled in large earthen pots to make "gur"(Jaggery), and the crushed bagasse was used as fuel. It was then converted into sugar. It is perhaps one of the earliest recorded instances of the production of sugar.

The "gur", jaggery was then covered with "pata" - a type of moss. The bacteria in the moss fed on the reddish-brown impurities in the molasses/jaggery, leaving behind granules of crystal sugar. The sugar produced, despite the rudimentary methods of refining, was almost as pure as and more tasty than the mill-made sugar.

The term rosogolla is derived from 'ros' meaning syrup and 'golla' meaning 'ball'. The rosogolla means 'a ball filled with syrup.' Over the years, the rosogolla is offered in varied manifestations. The white variety remains as popular as it was when it was born.

We now have a creamish-tending-to-be-brown rosogolla dipped in jaggery syrup instead of sugar syrup. The taste is distinctly different. There is an orange variety called kamala bhog. The sugar-syrup-dipped rosogolla carries the aroma of rose water or golap jawl. Its obvious characteristic is its soaking in syrup. The other is the smoothness of the chhana of which it is made.

Nobin Chandra was born into a rich traditional family of sugar barons. The family once controlled the entire sugar industry in Bengal. By 1846, when Nobin Chandra was born, its dominance had faded and so had its affluence. Nobin Chandra lost his father three months before his birth. Left with little scope to complete his education, he started a sweetmeat shop at Jorasanko in 1864 at his mother's instance. It was a failure. Most of the sweetmeats made then were either "Sondesh", a delicacy exclusively for the affluent, or sweets made of "dal" (lentils) or flour from various grains.

He opened a new outlet in Baghbazar in 1866. In an obscure corner of Baghbazar in North Calcutta Nobin Chandra set up a sweet shop. The premises looked like a haunted house. Nobin Chandra put a fence to enclose the little open space in front. He kept looking for a juicy sweet to offer an alternative to the dry variety. His ambition was to break the supremacy of ubiquitous 'Sondesh'.

His imagination, skill and tenacity paid dividends when he invented the rosogolla. One afternoon, he struck magic with the white rounds soaked in sugar syrup. Not sure about how it would fare with his clientele, he did not put it up for sale. For Nobin Chandra, it was a route to history where he is archived forever. Connoisseurs of sweets remember him as 'Nobin Moira', a legend born of and sustained by love.

Nobin Chandra waited patiently for his creation to be accepted and recognized. One morning, a magnificent landau stopped at his Baghbazar shop. Bhagwandas Bagla, a wealthy businessman and his family were in the carriage. One of his children was thirsty. The little boy was given a rosogolla along with the water.

The child was delighted and asked his father to share it. The father was thrilled with the novel sweet. He bought a huge quantity for his family and friends. It was unorthodox publicity but very successful. Nobin Chandra and his rossogolla became famous and thus spread the international empire of an essential Bengali sweet. Originally from Burdwan, the Das's have been living in Calcutta for eight generations.

The rosogolla arrived at a time when the city's elite was clamouring for an alternative to Sondesh. Nobin Chandra was determined to satisfy them. Success came in 1868 when Nobin Chandra offered his soft, spongy and syrupy rosogolla. There was then no advertising.

The rosogolla quickly reached the hearts of the masses. Nobin Chandra left his legacy to his worthy son Krishna Chandra Das (K. C. Das). Krishna Chandra enlarged his inheritance. The family keeps exploring new vistas outside the beaten track. The perseverance of the Das family has made the rosogolla claim the status of an internationally renowned sweet. In 1930, Krishna Chandra Das went into mechanized production and canning of milk sweets under the brand name of K.C. Das, now exported online across the world.

Several historic events took place during the 1850s and 1860s. 1857 was witness to the Sepoy Mutiny. 1861 saw the birth of Rabindranath Tagore. Swami Vivekananda was born in 1863. The beginning of women's education and the rise of the Brahmo Samaj also took place during this time.

It was the golden age of Bengal's renaissance. Things were blooming in every direction that went into the shaping of the Bengali identity. One historical event that gave a different dimension to this identity is the birth of the rosogolla in 1868. The man responsible for gifting the Bengali with this dimension was a genius named Nobin Chandra Das.
 

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