The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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One fast forward, one pause, but both make sweets

Both are mithai shops in the city’s business hub. Both have been around for a long, long time. Both have distinctive flavours and definite favourites. But now, they have chosen different recipes for sweet success.

Bombay Sweets, of Aflatoon and ‘colourful sweets’ fame, has been on Bentinck Street for 75 years now. But for the first time in seven decades, it’s wearing a new, bright look this Ramazan. “I have been toying with the idea of refurbishing the shop for more than a year. We hurriedly finished renovation in the past month-and-a-half, to be in time for Ramazan,” says Ibrahim Mithaiwala, whose father and uncle migrated from Mumbai to Calcutta in the 1930s to set up shop. “I feel it’s necessary to change in order to keep pace with modern trends in food habit,” adds Mithaiwala, welcoming young Ramazan customers.

Not too far from the suddenly-swank shop opposite Paradise cinema, the Ramazan crowd invariably flocks to a seemingly-charred and changeless sweet shop, near Burrabazar police station. If the khoya-based Aflatoon, the kheer khajas and kheer samosas are gobbled up at Bombay Sweets, the laddus, jalebis and bundiya disappear fast from Kali Gudam.

Walking down Mahatma Gandhi Road on the taste trail, instead of turning left into the Burrabzar thana lane, if one turns right, Kali Gudam is a soot-laden bleak house with a high ceiling and the unmissable scent of sweets. Two men packing laddus by the dozen, while halwais sweat beside a giant black cauldron and a mammoth wheat grinder is a sight that sets Kali Gudam apart.

It’s been this way for a hundred years — from 7 am to 11 am and then 2 pm to 9 pm — every single day, say residents of the area, that comes alive during Diwali with a magic mart of Lakshmi and Ganesh, food and festivity. It’s a bustle of a different kind during Ramazan, with big orders for bhujiya and laddu being the order of the day.

“We have never felt the need to change, as our mithais remain popular,” explains an employee. The cellphone-toting malkin remains tight-lipped, as if drawing an iron curtain to stop the winds of change invading Kali Gudam.

But at Bombay Sweets, the times they are ’a changing, and fast. The shabby 550-sq-ft shop now looks more like a fast-food hangout; Aflatoon, invented and introduced here in the early 1950s, remains a draw, but suddenly there’s chicken halim jostling for attention; the loyal customer is still made to feel at home, but plans are also being chalked out to introduce Happy Hours with a 10 per cent discount.

Ibrahim started thinking about diversification — a variety of non-vegetarian and vegetarian snacks are to be sold from a refurbished store — soon after taking over a few years ago and realising that sales had hit a plateau.

The 11 kinds of halwa and 20 kinds of colourful barfis remain popular, but the focus is clearly on the new items on the counter. “The introduction of halim, chops, cutlets, rolls, samosas on one counter, and sandesh (to be followed by rosogolla) on another has already pushed up footfall and sales,” says Ibrahim. “This just proves that change is essential.”

Try telling this to Kali Gudam.

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