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A rambling on Rabindrasangeet and the origin of rasgullas, marketing and success…

Posted on: September 1, 2015

In case you aren’t aware, there has been a raging geo-tagging war recently in the media between Bengal and Orissa about the genesis of this white mouth-watering delicacy (rasgullas) that we all love so much. The Oriyas claim that rasgullas were offered to Lord Jagannath as early as the 12th Century, while the Bengalis stake claim saying that they first learned of the specialized milk splitting technique required for its making from the Portuguese who had settled in Chandannagore during the 17th Century. The noted sweet seller of Kolkata, Mr. K. C. Das and his family is credited with popularizing rasgullas since the 19th century across the country and beyond its borders…

It seems now that there aren’t any historical documents to prove the claims made by both parties. In the absence of valid evidence, I think it is futile to quibble in this manner. After all, we still believe that Sir J. C. Bose invented wireless communication, but lack of credible evidence has led the West to bestow the honor for the same on Marconi.This should make us wiser to document our important findings and inventions…

Vir Sanghvi in his recent article (Creation Myths, Brunch Hindustan Times August 23, 2015) mentions that “Odiyas cite classical references about temple food to back up their claim and insists that the Bong stole it from them. Is this a valid assertion? Frankly, I am dubious.If the Odiyas were great rasgulla-wallahs for centuries then why did the rest of India never hear about their great invention/ And even today, while we may ask somebody who is visiting Calcutta to bring back some sweets for us (mishti doi, even), I know few people who will say, “I am going to Cuttack/Bhubaneshwar; home of the rasgulla; let me bring some back for you!
But the truth is: we don’t really know who invented the rasgulla. Yes, we have KC Das version. But no doubt Odiyas will claim that this is a self-serving assertion made by a commercial enterprise. We have so few records about our food that nearly every claim made by anybody can easily be contested by somebody else.”

I am also unsure of what actual benefits would accrue even if it is proven clearly that it originated in one of these two states. This is an age of branding and marketing.

Say for instance Assam starts making lip smacking varieties of dosas and idlis and builds a brand name for itself and embarks on selling them across the globe. Slowly and gradually, the name of Assam would get appended to the list of fine centers for dosa-making, isn’t it?

At the end of the day, the efforts ought to be geared towards making better and better rasgullas from both the places and whosoever succeeds in the business of attracting more customers would eventually be laughing all the way to the bank.I guess propriety over product and even culture doesn’t contribute towards making it popular. Let us take the case of Rabindrasangeet.

Tagore,who arguably has written the best songs in the country, those that fits into every mood and conceivable human situations, yet the popularity of Rabindrasangeet doesn’t extend much beyond Bengal and Bengalis. While Tagore songs have been used by many Bengali filmmakers in their films made in their mother tongue, hardly anyone in Bollywood which boasts of several renowned Bengali directors as well could put Rabindrasangeet to any use. As far as my limited knowledge goes, we had Rabindrasangeet in Hindi films in a plagiarized version in ‘Yaraana’ (Chuker mere monko lifted from Tagore’s Tomar holo suru) and a less than perfect rendition of ‘Ekla Chalo’ by Amitabh Bachchan in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani. I can’t recall any other works from Bollywood which have made use of the songs written by Gurudev.

I recently made a trip to an African nation and was pleasantly surprised to find the popularity of Bollywood films over there. Hindi films are dubbed in Swahili, the local language and are telecast regularly in the local channels. On the other hand, the art cinema movement in India which has produced the best films in the country languishes primarily because of the lack of marketing and their unavailability beyond the local areas—it has less to do with the dwindling of a serious audience…

In short, quality and marketing is the name of the game to survive and prosper in this age of instant communication. Historical facts are always relegated into the pages of rarely referenced tomes and eventually start gathering dust…

Even Vir Sanghvi ends his article in a similar vein and I reproduce verbatim his concluding lines “So who cares where the rasgulla was invented? It would be nice to know the history. But ownership? Forget it. Food is not about copyright. It is about joy.”

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