Contributed by Debasish Roy
Bhimnag’s sweet shop is 240 years old as of today. It became really famous when the courageous Ashutosh Mukherjee who was a fearless academician and educator in Bengal admitted Subhash Chandra Bose in Scottish Church College after Netaji was rusticated from his own college having hit his teacher on the head. Well, Netaji had little choice. The Englishman was yelling at the top of his voice “you Indians are barbarians” and his most illustrious student stepped up and belted him on the noggin fair and square.
Ashutosh Mukherjee without further ado admitted Netaji into a better and more famous college: The Scottish Church College. Incidentally, Mukherjee used to buy a basketful of sondesh from this shop existing at the end of a narrow lane in Burrabazaar area.
I have eaten the sondesh at that shop and have a clear idea how Ashutosh Mukherjee became so fearless and strong. AM was commonly referred to as the Banglar Baagh. The tiger of Bengal. Well, It began that way but it has ended sadly. Nobody visits that shop anymore. At the same time, the quality of the sweets is exactly the same as it was 150 years ago when Ashutosh babu bought sweets from there.
Last time I was there, I bought a suitcase from the Duckback showroom next door and then walked into Bhimnag. I asked them to fill it up. The suitcaseful of sweets disappeared in one hour when I landed in New York 40 hours later. My American friends couldn’t have enough.
All Bengali sweets are made from chchana, which is lots of milk curdled with just a little lemon juice and then strained off all fluid. The dry soggy stuff left over is drip dried for five hours and then mashed by hand for four hours. Then crushed sugar is added in the ratio of 20 parts of mashed chchana is to one part of sugar and then mashed for one hour again. The resultant mass is called sondesh. This is now shaped into various attractive and saleable figures and sold as sondesh. Sondesh is sold by volume in Bengal and Bangladesh and by weight in North India. The concept of sweets in Bengal or east India is that of a snack or light meal. On the other hand, North Indians like to treat sweets as a dessert and usually serve extremely heavy dishes dripping with ghee (clarified homemade butter), sugar syrup and khoya (hard condensed full cream milk). Eating a kilo of sondesh is common place in Bengal but eating a kilo of sweets in North India is extremely rare owing to the heavy nature of the sweetmeat. When sondesh is fresh and just made, it is also rolled into balls and boiled in very light sugar syrup which contains one part of sugar to ten parts of water. The result is the highly popular rossogolla. Rossogollas are referred to russgullas in North India and eaten chilled. On the other hand, rossogollahs are eaten fresh from the boiling vat in Bengal.