Sunday, November 9, 2014

Jewellery scenario in Delhi and its environs

Jewelry scenario in Delhi and its environs

They say “the past reflects the future”, and it is amply so for India’s capital Delhi. If one were to look at the current scenario for jewelry in Delhi, one needs to understand the past glory of the city. A glory which transcends time, and goes back to nearly 5000 years. Delhi is said to be the erstwhile capital of the Pandavas in the historic epic Mahabharata founded in 2500 BC and was called Indraprastha. A village by that name did exist till the early 19th century. The description of the jewels worn by Royalty in the historic Mahabharata is reflective of the trade in gold and precious stones even then. The earliest archaeological relic from Delhi has been traced to 300 B.C.

What is available

It was not as if the techniques developed in Delhi, but most techniques and exquisitely manufactured products made their way to Delhi. Over time craftsmen also settled down in the bylanes to offer some of the finest in jewelry. If the craftsmen did not like the environs to work, the traders ensured its supply by contracting out to the workers in whichever part of the country. In Delhi the main centres of Karol Bagh and Chandni Chowk together have as many as 5000 retailers. The export from the Northern Region Delhi and its environs can easily be worth Rs. 4000 – Rs. 5000 crores in a year.

Such is the fondness for jewelry that even small neighborhood shopping complex,  every area has more than one such market, has at least 2 – 3 shops to boast. So in Delhi almost all types of jewelry making thrives. Though organized in its own right, the trade functions in a scattered manner and to the outsider would look disorganized. Most jeweler families are hereditary tracing their business to at least 3 – 4 generations earlier. Their working is done through hereditary craftsmen who have been associated with the family for over generations. It is only rare that such arrangements are broken. 

What is interesting is that in Delhi, a cultural melting pot where its people are drawn from all parts of the country, the jewelry craftsmen also come from all parts of the country, bringing together a collection of techniques, skills, designs and motifs. Most of them migrated to the city to cater to the population from that particular part of the country. However with time, they become part of the cosmopolitan population of the city. Thus it is possible to see craftsmen from all most all parts of the country and the diversity of jewelry offered is amazing.  For example, Prakash Works operating in South Delhi are a team of craftsmen from Kerala (2814 kms from Delhi) who specialize in light weight jewelry. Similarly, Karmarkar is another goldsmith from West Bengal (1461 kms from Delhi), who operates from Karol Bagh specializing in bangles, karas (bracelets). It is these craft workshops which are the hallmark of jewelry trade and making in the city. They have their own repertoire of designs or execute designs given to them by designers and bigger jewelry stores. They can procure their own metal or alternatively the gold is provided by the customer. A lot of designers work in this manner. The craftsmen usually work on a contractual basis.

Highlight – In case you are looking for designs pertaining to a particular community, the best bet is to look up an “aunty” or an “uncle” well versed in the tradition of that community. They will refer you to a good craftsman or local jewellery of the community. Or even discreet enquiries of which jeweller they source their jewellery from and you should be on your way.
Insider Tip – Be careful to check the hallmarking on gold. In many cases it will be difficult to sell it off to another jeweller who will claim that the quality of gold is inferior. Ask the friendly source on the purity of gold and if the jeweler will buy back the gold jewellery. When selling jewellery studded with stones, the stones are never valued. It is better to re-set the jewellery into some new pieces. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Alwar Ka Kalakand

Actually a trip to Alwar does not qualify to be a part of the Delhi City Guide. But since it is just 180 kms from Delhi and the Kalakand or milk cake is to die for, well I thought it can possibly squeeze in as an exception and not rule. Also with their new outlet opening on the Delhi - Jaipur / Delhi - Alwar intersection... well... read on

The original of the article appeared in the Hindu, which can be read here.

Read the following unedited version. 

Alwar Ka Kalakand

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, is the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And in a similar vein for this delicacy from Alwar call it Alwar Kalakand,  Alwar ka Mawa or Alwar ka Milk cake and it would taste just as delicious. How delicious? Well, just as it would be to bite into sweet milk granules thickened to the extent that the original milk is reduced to 1/5th of the initial quantity and the centre retaining its warm brown texture. For the uninitiated it is just like the “South Indian therati paal” except it is far more thickened and tastes out of the world. Meaning it is well worth the drive of 180 kms one way from Delhi.

It comes as a surprise that Alwar, in Rajasthan can be so popular for a milk based sweet. The general impression being Rajasthan given its dessert like condition would be deficient in milk. I ask and am promptly told, “Alwar is a milk surplus area”. The picturesque little town nestled on the foothills of the Aravali ranges does seem different greener with fertile soil. One thing about the town is that Kalakand is well known and almost all shops which sell sweets make Kalakand. The general query being, “how many kilos do you want?” Kalakand thus is consumed with gusto and taken as a gift from Alwar by anyone coming there. There are plenty of shops which sell Kalakand – Nandu Milk cake centre, Sudhama milk cake, Mansingh Kripaldayal sweets, Sanjay Sweet House, Deendayal Aggarwal & Sons.

But as they say, the unbeatable one is the pioneer – Baba Thakur Das & Sons, located on Hope Circus at the Kalakand Market. It is the shop which first brought Kalakand to Alwar and has been around since 1947. A small non descript shop except that the milk cakes from here sell like hot cakes. It is to Baba Thakur Das’s credit that Milk cake from Alwar has become such a huge industry that today there are over 5000 persons associated with it and more than 200 shops which sell the milk cake. Baba Thakur Dasji came to India from Pakistan, following partition. He was a resident of Dera Ismail Khan Gaon in Pakistan and when in India, he was sent to Alwar. He was a halwai or sweet maker there. Milk cakes also called palang tor is a popular item of the Punjab area and possibly it was made by him in Pakistan also.

The story is recounted to me by Abhishek, Baba Thakur Das’s grandson who manages the workshop with his father, while his younger brother Ashish and Uncle (father’s elder brother) man the shop. Abhishek Taneja says, “the sweet then was made on the footpath. When Dadaji put the milk to boil it curdled, he let it thicken and he filled the thickened sweet in a mould. When it was opened it emerged with a delicious brown centre. People asked, Babaji what is this. Baba Thakur Das said, yehi to kala hai, meaning that is the skill. From that day onwards the sweet has been called Kalakand.”  The sweet became so famous that the area came to be called Kalakand market. as it was available only there. The market today though apart from a few shops selling Kalakand also sells clothes and knick knack.

The hallmark of the cake is the wonderful brown layer inside. Initially people were sceptical that it was made only from milk and presumed that as they were from Pakistan, meat was actually being put inside to give it the brown colour. Abhishek adds, “my dadaji then started making the sweet in front of people’s eyes so that they could see that only milk and sugar was being used to make it.” Others also learnt the craft and set up their own sweet shops. Abhishek adds, “we have not lost a single worker in all these years. They have stayed with us and also the suppliers of milk have been there with us for a long time.”

It is in the last 10 years or so that the demand has shot up like anything. Today, Baba Thakur Das sells anywhere between 800 to 1000 kilos of Kalakand everyday and works with 4000 kilos or more of milk. The milk comes from nearby villages and the quality of the milk is tested by them personally. The family is involved directly in the making and the shop is open 365 days in a year.

I am taken to the factory which is a comfortable huge space on the ground floor, though sweltering. The making of the sweet is carried out using bhattis. There are 16 bhattis manned by 16 karighars on which the making is carried out. Each is in different stages of completion. A man is dedicated to simply weigh the sugar and give it to the Kharighar stirring the milk, another works at the Tartari putting it in bottles and giving it to the karighars. A balti with 5 kilos of milk is kept near the bhatti to use. Each karigar at one time works with 5 kilos of milk resulting in 1.6 kilos of Kalakand at a time. There is no chemical used and everything is made naturally. What brings out the hallmark brown colour in the middle is probably that given the high temperature of working, when it is put in the mould, the heat is retained. The outsides cool faster which the heat is trapped in the centre, thickening the milk further giving it the brown colour. Though I have eaten milkcake by the droves, this one simply wins hands down.
Abhishek offers me the still warm kalakand to taste, it is thousand notches above the cool, hardened ones sold in the shop outside. He adds, saying, “kalakand is best eaten just made still warm”. The Kalakand can be stored for 15 days at room temperature and it does not spoil. It though becomes hard when kept in the fridge.

What further adds to its taste is the water of Alwar which is sweet and the soil which adds richness to the milk and hence the sweet.  Abhishek challenges, “try making it at home and it will not be a patch of the original.” It is also the moulds, which are heavy aluminium open bricks which play a vital role in giving it the traditional brown inside. With all that goes into its making, the price is an affordable Rs. 230 per kilo.

Believe me, the kalakand from Alwar is so good, that for once, throw caution to the winds about weight gain and gorge on it. Even a few more hours on the treadmill the body won’t mind as the taste buds are so well satiated.