What Rosogulla Chaat Taught Me About Messing with “Bengali Kalchur”


What Rosogulla Chaat Taught Me About Messing with “Bengali Kalchur”

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

My Punjabi brother recently tied the knot with his half-Bengali half-Tamil wife in a wedding held in Karnataka and attended by my own half-Konkani half-Marathi in-laws. It felt less like a wedding and more like a government-sponsored nationalist pride ad. Unity in Diversity. Mera Bharat Mahaan.

These were also the noble emotions the wedding guests might have experienced had they not been ambushed by us loud, boisterous Punjabis. Naturally, the pounding noises of our dhol and baaraat muted the fusion of the sombre cultures around us in one uncomfortable instant. Seeing this, the cultured Bengalis and the composed Tamilians went into a state of shock, until the calm Konkanis took it upon themselves to coach the others in the art of weathering a Punjabi wedding. They were, of course, speaking from their own PTSD from my wedding a few years ago.

Mercifully, the secretly free-flowing alcohol performed its duty as the quintessential social lubricant. By dinner time, all our high-spirited bhangra seemed to have been submissively embraced by representatives from all parts of the country.

Dinner was yet another reflection of the multicultural confluence that was the prevalent theme of the wedding. From crispy Bangalorean dosas, filter coffee, and spicy Tamilian bisi bele bhaat to Punjabi paneer tikkas and good old jalebi and rabri, every diner’s plate was an embodiment of Mile Food Mera Tumhara.

But, the highlight of the night (and cause for countless near-cardiac arrests) was a dish that transcended its responsibility as a mere food item and became a lasting memory of the wedding. It was an inventive starter, lovingly prepared by the chef in honour of the union of the Bengali-Punjabi couple: Rosogulla Chaat.

The otherwise animated Punjabis were tamed into silence, sporting polite smiles.

If you’re Bengali and have managed to read past the sacrilege that is the very name of this dish, please accept my respects for your tenacious tolerance.

For something so innately Bengali, the rosogulla chaat boasted of all the components of a typical Punjabi raj kachori: cold, creamy, sweet dahi, an avalanche of red and green chutneys, and generous smattering of chopped onion, tomato, and bhujia. The chef even went out of his way to garnish his creation with plentiful coriander and pomegranate pearls. The only difference, as the name suggests, is that the soul of the dish wasn’t any random puri; instead it was the rosogulla, the de-facto national dish of Bengal.

We Punjabis, on the other hand, are known for a number of things, but our discerning taste buds are not among our strongest suits. It takes significant sugar and spice and everything nice to make a dent on our refined palettes. Few of us might have wondered why the chaat was sweeter than usual, as most of us happily gorged away at the dish – it was really nothing our booze-addled brains couldn’t deal with.

As it turned out, however, not everyone was as open-minded about this particular culinary experiment. Overhearing fervent and angry Bengali whispers around us, we realised that the chaat had managed what our unruly behaviour failed to do: stir and offend the Bengalis into action.

The Rosogulla Revolution was well and truly upon us.

An aunt of the bride decided that she could not live with herself if she did not raise her voice against this atrocity of genocidal proportions. “Rosogulla chaat is an abomination,” she yelled to anyone who would listen, taking it upon herself to defend the esteemed Bengali culture in the war single-handedly unleashed by this monstrosity of a dish. Channeling her inner Bengali Renaissance reformer, she went around the room to recruit more followers, convinced that no crime was worse than the hate crime of enjoying this.

And this is how one dish on the menu managed to completely flip the dynamic of the wedding. The otherwise animated Punjabis were tamed into silence, sporting polite smiles. The delicate balancing act between complimenting the hosts for the night’s spread while carefully avoiding any compliments finding their way to the ostracised Chaat had a greater sobering than the strongest filter coffee around.

To lighten the mood, I made the mistake of attempting a joke about serving this controversial dish at the next-in-line cousin’s wedding. The minute it escaped my mouth, I could feel the weight of a hundred eyes boring down at me, taking the tension in the room to a crescendo. Just as I was preparing to be labelled “unkalchured”, came the war cry. “We won’t attend that wedding!” they yelled, pointing a rage-fuelled finger at my hapless cousin.

That shut me up. I followed everyone’s lead and quietly ate my Bengali-approved food, hoping I’d read enough Tagore or seen enough Ray to distract the Bengali brigade with small talk they’d actually be interested in.

As the wedding wrapped up, we plied the deflated chef with extra compliments for the innovative menu and lip-smacking food to assuage the pain on his face, while looking over our shoulders for signs of our enraged comrades. At that point, the only thing that could have made the situation any worse was if an Oriya suddenly showed up and claimed that rosogullas were actually invented in Odisha.

It has been months since the wedding, and while some comrades have found it in their hearts to find the humour in the situation in hindsight, for many other survivors it remains a painful memory. In any case, it gave my brother and sister-in-law a worthy wedding story to tell their kids and grandkids. Move over Vicky Donor. There is a new Pungali couple in town, and they come armed with a backstory to rival any Bollywood romantic-comedy (comedy of culinary errors, that is) – the Rosogulla Chaat wedding.