Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sweetness in the air

Travelling by Vikram on Kanwali road in the evening is a miserable experience. There are traffic jams, it is noisy, and even being crowded with the rest of the passengers does not lessen the impact of the cold winds that blow in from everywhere. The people sitting inside are tense and in an uncharitable mood; they try to make themselves as rigid as possible to ensure that no one crowds them even further. And then on a certain stretch of the road, they close their eyes and inhale deeply. Bodies relax, tension dissipates, eye contact is made and smiles exchanged.

All because of the warm and sensuous aroma of jaggery. Unlike sugar, jaggery has a complex taste- sweet, salt, caramelly, malty, and unexpectedly spicy. When it is melted, the aroma makes one swoon with a happy sigh, especially on a cold night. This is not the warmth of a duvet, it is the generous smiling warmth of an embrace. It is sweet but not cloying, warm but not oppressive; it is unrestrainedly sexy. And it alone is the reason I make it a point to often go down Kanwali road in winter.

For most of the year, Saharanpur Chowk is my least favourite place in town. It is crowded, noisy, littered and sends me home with a headache. From November to February, it is still crowded, noisy and littered, but also fragrant.

Candy shops line the street for maybe a hundred meters past Saharanpur Chowk as one travels up Kanwali road from the station. They are unnoticeable most of the time- as I write this, I find myself unable to recall what they sell in the warmer months. In winter though, each shop sets up a candy making unit at the back. The sweets they sell- 'gajak' - are designed to beat the chill. They are made entirely of warming foods- jaggery, sesame seeds, ground nuts- that provide a bit of warmth, sugar and protein for 60-100 Rs a kilo. Buy Mum the sweets, but subjecting her to the traffic is not necessary.

Unless she is interested in the candy making process which is fascinating and reminiscent of the proceedings in a witches' kitchen.. In each shop a huge (1.5m dia or so) iron kadhai rests on a rough stove. In it, a thick brown liquid simmers with an occasional 'glop' as a bubble rises to the surface. This is the jaggery that brings customers here. On the floor is a mound of bright tinkling sesame seeds waiting to be mixed with the jaggery. And suspended from a hook on the wall is Rapunzel's braid. Actually,'s a glistening golden rope of sugar that is being stretched and twisted till it is perfectly ductile and made of hundreds of fine threads. Sadly, I don’t have a photo of that..though I do have one of the candy-makers I bought some gajak from a couple of days ago.


nadi said...

to warming foods
warming words

Anonymous said...

And then there is me in Jan and I will get you some of the best rewadi's in the world from Meerut!
Very evocative descriptions of gajak making...enjoy!