>A bit deflated after Arsalan I ambled into the sweetshop next door. It’s name was Jugal’s. Sounded like a North Indian name to me. It was a Bengali sweetshop. I thought that it could be something like Gangurams, a traditional Bengali sweetshop owned by non Bengalis.
I ordered a komola bhog and a dorbesh. Both of which came in a shaal pata plate. Shaal is a tree whose dried leaves are used to served streetside snacks in Calcutta. A practice from well before biodiogredable became fashionable. Again, does anyone know the English name?
I took some photos. Suddenly the thin gentleman at the counter said,
“Can I see the photos?”
I gave him the camera. He saw it and then took it the elderly gentleman at the counter. This seemed all too familiar. Reminded me of the commandos at Mumbai who picked me up less than a week back. Plus a few minutes earlier a young lad suspiciously asked me, “why are you taking photos” as I clicked outside Arsalan. Was I on the way to becoming a wanted criminal? But then why should these be state secrets? Look at the sweets below. Little babies.
The elderly gentleman looked at the camera screen with a look of intense concentration. Then he suddenly broke into a smile.
“Arre, these are pictures of our shop. Bah (great). Is this a phone? Can the photos be transferred?”
Relieved, I explained to him that what he held was a camera and that I could use a wire to transfer the pics into a computer. He smiled. I told him that I write on food. He broke into a bigger smile and said, “you must write about us”. “Will this come out next month?”. He smiled again when I said that I usually write a day or two after I go to a place. Smiling seemed to be his thing.
We got talking. His name was Nepal Ghosh. The sweetshop was opened in the 90s. He told me that original branch is at Sealdah. It is called Jugal Kishore Ghosh after its founder and Nepal Babu’s uncle. Jugal Kishore has passed away and his sons now run the business. I realised that Jugal was Jugol and actually Bengali. Nepal Babu said that ‘Jugals’ was an attempt to make the shop more ‘trendy’. Looking around the bare shop, ‘trendy’, is the last word that you would think of.
Nepal Babu used to first sit at the Sealdah shop. Way back in ’71. Just when Bangladesh was formed. I asked him about how things were then. He said that Calcutta and Sealdah were covered with refugees eking out a bare existence. I asked him about his point of view on the belief that Calcutta never recovered from the influx of refugees and was spoilt in ’71. Nepal Babu had a different opinion. He said that Calcutta has improved vastly since then. He said that refugees who had come in had established succesful businesses and were doing a lot better. He didn’t attribute any blame to them. Though he said that the Naxal movement of the 70s had hit Calcutta badly as lot of students had put their lives on hold at that time.
I told him about my poor experience at Arsalan. He said that he agreed. He apparently used to be a fan of ‘Mughlai’ food in his younger years and would often be found at ‘Royal’. In his opinion what worked for Arsalan was its location (Park Circus, connected with Park Street, Rabindra Sadan, New Market and the South). And the fact that Shiraz was closed for renovations and was operating out of a small, easy to miss place. The he said, “kichhu mone korben na, aamra Bangalira hojook’e choli. Arsalan ekhon cholchhe” (Don’t mind but we Bengalis are enamoured by new trends. Arsalan is the in thing now). Us two oldies nodded in agreement with each other.
Nepal Babu suddenly said “How much mishti doi can you eat? Half kilo, 250 g?”
I said, “Err, 100 g? I’ll let you into a secret. I am actually going to go home and have dinner again. My mom has cooked and I don’t want to disappoint her”.
The mishti doi came in a little earthen bhaar (pot). I took my first bite and shivered in delight. This was a cold, icy heavent which was just what I needed in the sweltering heat of Calcutta. The taste was soul satisfying. The texture ethereal. Nepal Babu smiled as he saw the look of delight on my face.
“Oi get some kachha golla for dada”, he thundered oblivious to my protests.
The thin gentleman, Bikram Ghosh (“he is like family”), got it for me. “Won’t you take a photo of me?” I finally managed to get him to drop his grim expression as his face would freeze every time I focussed the camera.
The kacha golla (made of steamed cottage cheese/ chhana) was very delicate. Once again I felt refreshed the moment I ate it despite the fact that I was being grilled medium raw in the heat around me.
Nepal Babu smiled at the look of bliss on my face. He said that the mishti doi and kaacha golla were their specialities. He magnanimously and very honestly said that other shops can make the other stuff as good if not better.
The shop begun to fill up and I took my leave. Nepal Babu looked at Bikram and said “the doi and kacha golla are on me. Only charge him for what he ordered”. Bikram Babu joined in and said “well it comes to fourteen Rupees. You pay me ten”.
I protested but they insisted and all they asked in return was for me to drop in and say hi the next time I was in Calcutta. Something tells me that I would.