Kolkata Chromosome: Like KC for ‘rossogolla’
The sweet history of the city’s famous dessert, Nobin Chandra Das’ ‘invention’, in an excerpt from a new book
The factory, a five-minute stroll from the river, is tucked away in a lane named after Ramakrishna Paramhansa. I can smell the boiling syrup from a distance. The security guard, when I tell him that I have an appointment, courteously shows me into the reception, where I sit under a giant portrait of a man called Sarada Charan Das (1906–92), described in the caption as ‘the father of globalisation of Indian sweets.’
Sarada Charan Das, the family tree in my notebook tells me, was a son of KC Das and grandson of Nobin Chandra Das, the ‘inventor’ of rossogolla. Sarada Charan Das himself had seven children, among them Dhirendra Nath Das, who had opened the shop on Jatindra Mohan Avenue and whose son, Dhiman, I have come to see.
“I have been going to that shop right from the day it opened in April 1985. I was thirteen at the time,” Dhiman tells me when I meet him in his cabin, “I would sit next to my father. That’s where I learned the ropes.”
He says, “My father named the shop after Nobin Chandra Das (and not KC Das) because he wanted at least one shop to be named after him so that people don’t forget that he had invented the rossogolla.”
“Did he really invent the rossogolla?” I ask him.
“Yes, he did. Some people say the rossogolla came from Orissa. But we went there, made enquiries and found no evidence. Even if something similar to the rossogolla existed at the time, it certainly did not match the quality and texture of what Nobin Chandra Das had created,” says Dhiman.
Nobin Chandra heeded his mother’s advice and opened a shop in Jorasanko on Chitpur Road—a stone’s throw from the palatial house where Tagore was growing up at the time. The shop did not do very well on that location and two years later, in 1866, he moved further up the road and opened a new shop in Baghbazar. It was here that he ‘invented’ the rossogolla, in 1868, by making small balls of cottage cheese and boiling them in sugar syrup.
One morning, a horse-carriage carrying the wealthy Marwari merchant Bhagwandas Bagla and his family came to a halt outside his shop. One of Bagla’s children was thirsty and they were looking for some water. Nobin Chandra, as hospitality demanded during those days, offered the child a sweet—in this case a rossogolla—along with the water. Seeing the child relish the new kind of sweet, the father could not resist helping himself to one, and was so delighted that he bought a large quantity of rossogollas.
Nobin Chandra’s ‘invention’ soon became famous by word of mouth. Until then, the sandesh was the king of Bengali sweets, but not everybody could afford it. The common man had to make do with sweets made of lentils or gram flour.
Since Nobin Chandra was a simple man who lived in simpler times, he was only too glad to pass on the art of rossogolla-making to fellow confectioners….
Nobin Chandra went on to invent other milk sweets as well. Over time, his sweets became popular with the monks of the newly-started Ramakrishna Mission, which had set up a monastery in Baghbazar. One particular sweet, the dedo sandesh, was a favourite of Sarada Ma, Ramakrishna’s wife, who spent her final years residing in the offices of Udbodhan —the Bengali mouthpiece of the Mission—also located in Baghbazar.
Nobin Chandra died in 1925, aged eighty. His son, Krishna Chandra Das, fifty-four at the time, succeeded him at the shop.
In 1930, Krishna Chandra, who had five sons, opened another shop with the assistance of the youngest, Sarada Charan, in Jorasanko. He called the shop Krishna Chandra Das Confectioner. It was here that he created the rossomalai and also introduced canned rossogollas. But he died within four years of the shop’s opening, leaving the business in the hands of Sarada Charan, then twenty-eight. Sarada Charan turned out to be a visionary. He began to expand the business. In 1935, he purchased the warehouse of a transport company on Esplanade and turned it into an upscale sweet shop patterned on a Western-style eatery. Liveried waiters served sweets to patrons in porcelain plates. Sweets were no longer packed for customers the traditional way—wrapped in leaf—but in cake boxes. He named the shop after his father. Krishna Chandra Das was shortened to KC Das.
In 1946, Sarada Charan registered ‘KC Das’ as a private limited company and became its governing director. That year, he also set up a factory in Baghbazar—where I am sitting right now, with his grandson—and began to use steam, instead of open fire, to prepare the sweets. For that purpose he installed the boiler of a steam locomotive in the factory. More KC Das shops opened in the city.
Sarada Charan, who enjoyed a respectable position in society, liked to fund sporting events and help artists.
Even though the order was revoked in 1967, Sarada Charan did not think it wise to invest in reviving the shut shops, that too when he was not sure if sweet-sellers would be slapped with such an order again. He began thinking of taking the business out of Calcutta to somewhere down south, perhaps Hyderabad.
He eventually decided in favour of Bangalore, and in 1972, set up a factory and a shop there. He put his youngest son, Birendra Nath Das, in charge of the business in Bangalore. Birendra Nath, who remained a bachelor and is now in his late seventies, dedicated his life to building the KC Das empire in Bangalore.
Today KC Das has nineteen outlets in Bangalore and only six in Calcutta.
Excerpted and edited with permission from Tranquebar.
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