Friday, November 07, 2014

A box of sweetmeats, was it just that?

The Khapti has sparked up our lives with memories flooding us everyday.

Today as Dad stepped out to go to Chembur, I sheepishly requested him to get a mixed sweet box. Dad smiled and asked, what was on my mind? Further to arouse some guilt he said, "You have been indulging since Diwali".

Unperturbed I said I want a खावाल्याचं पेटलं  

That made Dad smile, I use Koli dailect only for effect, he knows it.

He returned with a box of the mixed sweetmeats form Jhama. I was so thrilled because you can expect my Dad to return empty handed saying the shop was closed! Mainly due to the health concerns I have. However I think he understood this was for the blog and not for me and so he obliged.

You will be wondering what is so great about this box, its the memories associated with it. When we visited Thal our treats were KhaptiNaraLi PakBadampak er ShengdanepakPithachi BoreKejyarcha Kairi Lonche etc. These are treats that are slowly being forgotten in the slew of modern sweets, chocolates and treats. 

You might wonder what was the treat we took back for our cousins and relatives from Mumbai. It was this खावाल्याचं पेटलं .  It means a box of sweat meats. In the entire Raigad region or even beyond this box was much desired. Whether it was the Khapnar the staff working on the boats or the Nakhwa, the owner were going back to their villages from Mumbai after selling their catch and pockets full; they always took back this box of treats, so colorful and enticing.

It is known that seafarers are always at high risk and when they return to family after even a few days at sea, it is always a celebration for the family. Just as the wife would cook the specials for her man, he reciprocated by taking back the sweetmeat box for his family, especially the children. Even if it meant he took back the smallest pack of 250 gms.

The status of the seafarer was determined based on where the sweet treats were bought? Was it from the nameless Guptaji's dairy or from Chandu Halwai or Kailash Parbat? It was always North Indian sweets especially Sindhi sweets because besides the Kolis, the second largest community in Colaba was the Sindhi. Their sweets were much loved. Made from Khoya in different flavours, chocolate, rose, pista. The motichoor ladoos that would make Fanta shy away in faded color. The yellow or white sheets of Mahim halwa. The sticky chewy Karachi halwa / Badam halwa. Now when a khapnar went to buy he would have just a few Rupees in his pocket and taking only one type of sweet in higher weight meant not being able to afford too many varieties. So they would always ask for a piece of each of the sweetmeats. That way they would be able to taste everything the shop had to offer and also spend less. Soon this was something the shopkeepers got used to and they started offering a mixed sweetmeats box at a fixed price. Another thing, the box definitely looked festive and more colorful with the variety. I sometimes wonder if this was the legacy of Tasting menus that we see in restaurants today.

Chandu's box used to be covered in yellow cellophane paper and peeling it off was a source of excitement and entertainment for the kids back in the villages. Kailash Parbat had Lord Shivji on the box and the wrapper was a thick paper with pink and blue prints tied up with a thin cotton ribbon. Their sweets were the best and quite a status symbol for the seafarers. 

(Psst once we moved to Fort our family status symbol was sweets from American Dryfruits and Fountain Dry fruit stores, I don't remember my Dad  ever got mixed sweetmeat box from them)

On the occasions when Anwar Sheth (nickname Anwarya) from Chiplun visited Thal to conduct business and settle payments for the dry fish that he bought from the Koli people. He would get a similar box of sweets from Suleman Mithaiwala  for every family with whom he had contacts. It would be a green tombstone shaped box associated with the Muslim symbolism. Covered in another layer of green cellophane. 

I do not know what was this thing with Cellophane the crackling, the color or transparency that made it such a favorite wrapper for sweet boxes with Mithaiwallas.

The cellophane covers were always peeled off carefully to be used to cover Diwali kandeels or light bulbs for Ganapati decorations. The Kailash Parbat wrapper would be laid out in the little temples or Devhara in homes.

Once the staff were united with the family at teatime the box of sweet would be ceremoniously opened with all children surrounding him. Either the kids picked up a piece of their choice or the father cut out chips of the larger piece so everyone could get a taste of the mixed sweets in the box.

So anyone who went to the village from Mumbai was asked if they had got the box of sweet meats?

If a kid was running past neighbors and relatives in a rush with something in his/ her hands to share with friends at their favorite play spot they would get asked, "बापासनी काय हानलं?" (What did your father get?) The answer was always and always खावाल्याचं पेटलं !


  1. Another great essay, Anjali!

    1. Thank you Nupur! It's straight from the heart and the simplicity of an uncomplicated life that was.

  2. You must be so nostalgic crafting this. I could visualise the entire narration. Thumbs up from my side.

    1. Pari absolutely and since I visited my village just few days ago all the more.


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