It is possible that Mamata Banerjee has just found her sweet spot. Even as West Bengal readies for elections in 2016, Didi could have stumbled on the one issue that could bring her fractious flock together from Darjeeling to Jangal Mahal in common indignation. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth, it is to have a thankless child said Shakespeare. But as any Bengali could have reminded Shakespeare a sweet tooth denied its rightful rosogolla can be even sharper.
This could be Mamata’s rallying cry to her troops. They moved the capital to Delhi. They questioned the patriotism of Tagore. But they will take our rosogolla over our dead bodies. If she wins her GI application in Chennai, she can hail it as proof that no one can fight for her state’s rights the way she can. If the application is denied, this, more than anything Nitish Kumar could dream up in neighbouring Bihar, could be Bengal’s swabhimaan rally. Nothing spells swabhimaan like curdled milk.
The West Bengal government has gone on a war footing to stake its claim to the rosogolla. The Hindustan Times reports that it is rushing an officer to Chennai with its Geographical Indication application for the rosogolla. If that is accepted, then the humble rosogolla will henceforth be known as Banglar Rosogolla which by the way is not an euphemism to describe the state’s supposedly empty coffers.
The Royal Bengal Rosogolla is an emotive issue ever since Odisha claimed that they have been ritually offering rosogollas to appease a miffed Goddess Lakshmi for over 900 years. A researcher at the Jagannath Temple in Puri has said the sweet originated in Puri over 1500 years ago. Bengal is a mere johnny-come-lately with its claim that the rosogolla was invented by in 1868 by Nabin Das of the famous K C Das family.
But West Bengal has shed its notorious hochhey-hobey lackadaisical attitude towards life and industry and realized there is no time to waste. Luckily they have books like Haripada Bhowmik’s Rosogolla: Banglar Jagot Matano Aabishkar (Rosogolla: Bengal’s Invention that became a Global Craze) to buttress their case though Odisha is trying to dust off the much older Niladri Mahoday to support its petition. Food historians are coming up with their pronouncements on when exactly Indians learned to make chhena-based sweets as opposed to khoya-based sweets to settle this dispute. Could Y S Rao at the Indian Council of Historical Research weigh in on this pressing issue instead of the historicity of epics?
Kolkata Airport meanwhile has put up a sign saying fliers are not allowed to carry rosogollas in their hand luggage. People coming to board the flight with a clay pot of fresh white rosogollas are forced to abandon them at the luggage check area (or eat them all). This is a flight safety regulation, not a conspiracy to keep Bengal’s rasogollas confined to Bengal. But Mamata can surely say that it proves that the rosogolla is identified with her state no matter what the respected priests at the Puri temple say. Let’s compare the confiscated piles of rosogollas at Kolkata airport versus Bhuvaneswar.
A geographical indictor for a Rosogolla is not just a sweet nothing. While it’s not exactly a trademark, it is used to protect a region’s claim to a product whether it’s Florida oranges or Gruyére cheese. But commercial implications aside, a rosogolla food fight could have fascinating political undertones in India.
Could it rule out Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik ever cozying up in a non-BJP non-Congress alliance? Could a sympathetic nod towards Odisha be seen as the NDA government sweetening Patnaik? Is a compromise possible whereby Bengal gets its Bengal Rosogolla and Odisa gets its Pahala Rasgulla and both can go home happy(ish)? The rosogolla wars have plenty of juice in them and all sides will milk it for what it’s worth. Perhaps ultimately Narendra Modi will need to intervene with a Mann ki Baat by reminding us that the rasgulla ultimately belongs to all of Bharat and we should spread the sweetness and not squabble over it because our motto is sab ka saath, sab ka vikaas. Sab ka rasgulla, basically. Just don’t dare lay claim to khandvi, anyone.