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|History of the Rossogolla
Rabindra Nath Das
It was the golden age of Bengals renaissance. Things were blooming in every direction. In confectionery, too. The man who chose this area for engaging his genius was Nobin Chandra Das. The beginning was humble. In a tiny obscure corner of Baghbazar in North Calcutta, Nabin Chandra set up a sweet shop. But he hated running a mere sales counter. The passion to create something of his very own haunted him. His primary ambition was to break the supremacy of the ubiquitous sandesh. Imagination, skill and tenacity were his forte. And, these eventually paid dividends when Nobin Chandra invented the ROSSOGOLA . It was an innovation strong enough to vie with sandesh. And, for Nobin Chandra, it was a route to history where he has been lodged. Securely. Permanently. Connoisseurs of sweets remember him till today as Nobinmoira. Highbrow Bengalis often used the word moira slightingly, but they revised their outlook when tagging it as a suffix to Nobin Chandras name. Nobinmoira is a legend born out of, and sustained by, love.
Nobin Chandra left his legacy of genius to his worthy son Krishna Chandra Das (K.C.Das) . A chip of the old block, Krishna Chandra enlarged his inheritance of this genius in the art of Bengals sweetmeats. Whats more, he planted in his family a vibrant tradition that keeps on exploring new vistas outside the beaten track. It is virtually through the pioneering efforts of the Das family that the Rossogolla can confidently claim today the status of the national sweet.
Besides being privileged to have a great father, Krishna Chandra had yet another source of inspiration in his mothers family. His mother was the grand daughter of Bholanath Dey who is better known as Bholamoira in the cultural history of Bengal. A successful professional confectioner, Bholamoira added bigger dimensions to his career as a minstrel.
Krishna Chandra started his first shop, "Krishna Chandra Das Confectioner", in 1930, with his youngest son Sarada Charan. It became a crisper "K.C.Das" before long. Within five years, the venture was a spectacular success.
Through the ages, Bengalis have proved their irreplaceable love for sweets. No dietary idea is complete without it. Sugarcane grew in abundance in the state and much of it went into making sweets. The cane extract was boiled in large earthen pots and made into gur (jaggery), the crushed bagasse being 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 was then covered with pata, a type of moss. The bacteria present 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 much tastier than, the mill-made sugar. Today, it is a lost art.
Nobin Chandras ancestors were sugar barons. They had once controlled the entire sugar industry in Bengal. But by 1846, when Nobin Chandra was born, their dominance had diminished. 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 Calcutta in 1864 at his mothers instance. It was a failure. Most of the sweetmeats made then were either sandesh, a delicacy exclusively for the affluent, or sweets made of dal (lentil) or flour from various grains. He started a new shop in Baghbazar in 1866.
Meanwhile, the clamour among the citys elite for an alternative to sandesh was running high.
And Nobin Chandra was resolved to give it a good response. Success came in 1868 when Nobin Chandra offered his soft, spongy and syrupy Rossogolla. It was the ultimate delicacy. There was
Then no cult of advertising and Rossogolla took time to gain in popularity.
Nobin Chandra waited patiently for the recognition of his wonderful creation. Fortune smiled on him at long last. One fine morning, a magnificent landau came to a halt before his Baghbazar shop. A wealthy businessman, Bhagwandas Bagla, and his family were in the carriage. One of Bhagwandass children was thirsty, and the carriage stopped in search of water. Nobin Chandra met their demand. The little boy was given a drink of water and Rossogolla. The child was delighted at the taste of this unique delicacy and asked his father to share his delight. The father was as ecstatic. He bought a huge quantity for his family and friends. It was very rudimentary and unorthodox publicity but proved immensely useful. Nobin Chandra and his Rossogolla became famous in about no time.
Hailing originally from Burdwan, the Dass have, however, been living in Calcutta for eight generations. Their house on a horseshoe shaped bend on the Hooghly in Sutanutty, now Baghbazar, was fairly well-known. Being respectable and prosperous sugar merchants, Nobin
Chandras family did not take kindly to his decision to be a sweetmeat seller. His family itself called him "moira " (confectioner) contemptuously. Little did they suspect that history would dissolve their contempt into an enduring legend.
Nobin Chandras only child , Krishna Chandra, masterminded the Rossomalai, another perennial favourite. To popularise the Rossomalai, Krishna Chandra opened a new sweetshop at Jorasanko in 1930 from where he also introduced the canned Rossogolla. K.C.Dass enterprising youngest son, Sarada Charan, quickly expanded the business, adding to the number of shops in Calcutta. K.C.Das was incorporated as a private limited company under the Companies Act in 1946, with Sarada Charan as its Founder Governing Director.
Sarada Charans finest contributions are sweets for diabetics and the latest Amrita Kumbha sandesh, which is an exciting departure from all conventional concepts of shape and taste.
It was not, however, a cakewalk all the way. The stringent Milk Trade Control Order in West Bengal cramped and smothered the enterprise initiated by Nobin Chandra and built into a tradition by his successors. Barring the Esplanade establishment, which was selling savouries besides sweets, all the K.C.Das shops had to close down, along with that of Nobin Chandra Das in 1967.
The K.C.Das Company began its southern campaign in 1972 when Sarada Charan set up a factory and a shop in Bangalore. It has been highly successful, the Rossogolla being undeniably the most popular. According to Sarada Charan, the doyen of the Indian confectionery industry and the present head of the K.C.Das family, the business has survived many crises and constraints such as the Milk Control Order in West Bengal and the spiraling price of sugar. Non- availability of quality milk and shortage of electricity added to the problems, according to him. The cottage industry status of Nobin Chandras shop in 1866 has assumed the stature of a small scale industry through the development and growth of K.C.Das Private Ltd.
Despite hurdles, the K.C.Das organisation is untiring in its attempts to innovate newer, more scientific and hygienic methods of production and packaging. The production technology is entirely designed by Sarada Charan and operated in the Companys factory under his supervision and guidance.
The author, a barrister, is the great grandson of Nobin Chandra Das, the inventor of the Rossogolla.
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