She is born and brought up in Tripura, she speaks Hindi more fluently than her mother-tongue, she excels in a sport that is almost alien to Bongs, yet there is no doubt that Olympian Dipa Karmakar is a true blue Bengali. Why? Because, even after vaulting to world fame in Rio, she longed for one thing the most: Rosogolla. You are only as Bengali as your love for this syrupy ball is.
The training was long and gruelling, at times cruel too. Dipa had had to go without a burger for three whole months, without ice-cream for five. She savoured both in the Games Village the day after the finals. But the biggest reward still awaited her back home. “I want to go home and eat rasgulla,” she told Shivani Naik of The Indian Express a couple of days after almost making history at Rio. “It’s my biggest sacrifice.” Only a Bengali would ever say that.
The question of course is whether the rosogolla itself is as Bengali as it was always thought to be. Is it rasgulla, as the non-Bongs would have it, or is it rosogolla as we Bengalis want it? Did Bengal invent it in the late 1860s or did it originate in Orissa way back in the fifteenth century, as our neighbours would have us believe?
Of course, the fluffy white balls bobbing in their vats of sugar syrup taste just as sickly sweet in Kolkata as they do in Bhubaneswar or Agartala or a Bengali Market in some small town in Haryana. There are differences of course, as there are between those found in shops on adjacent lanes in Kolkata, in different parts of the city, different parts of the state. Aficionados have their favourites, frequented at specific times of the day when the fresh, steaming supplies roll in. Homemade rosogolla – that’s only for Bengalis in far off lands with no other way to get their syrupy fix.
Yet, it is no light matter to Bengal. At a time when we seem to be losing out on all fronts – no industry (we are still debating Singur), no cinema (still Ray), no literature (ditto Tagore), no music (nothing after Mohiner Ghoraguli in the Seventies), no cricket (ditto Saurav), politics (if we have our Didi, others have their Ammas and Behenjis) – being deprived of our rosogolla rights seems like the last straw.
No wonder the whole state is anxiously awaiting the verdict of the judges of the GI (Geographical Indications) Registry Office, Chennai, now in town probing the matter. Bengal is hopeful. According to the Kolkata edition of The Times of India, the investigators are quite satisfied with the documentation provided to back Bengal’s claims but have demanded some more details such as “the range of viscosity of the sugary syrup in which the roundels are kept, the range of its texture and sponginess,” etc. Easy peasy says the Mistanna Byabasayee Samity or federation of sweetmeat merchants tasked with wresting the GI certificate for “Banglar rosogolla” as it will then be called.
But then, it is in their interest to do. Stoking national pride or chauvinism or parochialism, call it what you will, is all very well but man cannot live by such sentiments alone. Finally, it is money that makes the world go round and the money in the round fluffy balls is considerable, especially for an economic laggard like Bengal. A GI certificate may give the business a huge boost, lack of one may hit it hard.
The GI tag, described by some as the poor man’s intellectual property right, is not quite a patent but it does help in marketing a product so certified and authenticated. That is why India, which produces around 85 percent of the world’s Basmati rice, fought long and hard to get the GI tag for it so that no one else, namely Pakistan, can claim their rice to be Basmati or, more importantly, export it as such.
Somewhat like the ‘hummus war’ that has engaged Lebanon and Israel for the last decade or so, with even larger geo-political considerations stirring the pot in the Middle-East. To the Lebanese, Israel’s appropriation of this dip appears to be yet another form of imperialism by its neighbour. After all, the entire Arab world has been dipping into hummus for ages and it is certainly a marker of their regional identity.
Yet, there are business considerations too. It may be just a chick pea paste but the global hummus market is said to be worth over $1 million. If Lebanon were to win exclusive rights to hummus, then non-Lebanese hummus manufacturers would have to call their product “Lebanese-style spread”. That wouldn’t bode well for Israeli companies, now the top hummus sellers in the United States.
Till Bengal tastes sweet victory, there is one thing it could learn from the hummus war. A few years ago, Lebanon and Israel decided to settle things in the old-fashioned way and began to compete for who could make the largest hummus dish. A whopping 9000-pound hummus dish set a new world record in the Arab-Israeli village of Abu-Gosh, only to be eclipsed a few months later by an astounding 22,000-pound rebuttal from Lebanon. Maybe Bengal could challenge Odisha to a biggest rosogolla contest or the largest batch in the shortest time competition or some such thing. After all, the world can always do with extra kilograms of rosogollas. Just ask Dipa Karmakar.