That gujjus have a sweet tooth is a well known fact. But then that fondness for all things sweet transcends boundaries on Dusshera. The chief source of weakness – the humble jalebi! Aah..light golden yellow, crispy,twisting its way around delightfully in concentric circles. Ably supported by its perfect partner in crime – besan na lamba papdi ghatiya and the sweet spicy papaya chutney with hari mirch… what a way to start the day!
“What!!!!” My non-Gujju friends exclaim in unison. Jalebi and ghatiya as breakfast!! No wonder we always have gas problems, they joke. But I just smile. They cannot appreciate the magical fusion that happens when a delectable jalebi and a fried ghatiya is popped in the mouth. And washed down with adrak and elaichi ki chai. Its akin to reaching gastronomical heaven.
And on Dusshera, this love assumes epic proportions. Every gujju bows down before the jalebi on Dusshera. I don’t know how this tradition started. But my grandfather had it on Dusshera, my father had it as well. I remember my love for Jalebis blossomed during Diwali vacations at my nani’s house in Calcutta when she used to order Jalebi and ghatiya every Sunday. It’s a legacy, you see. Cherished and preserved from generation to generation. Dusshera should be christened as World Jalebi Ghatiya day, we should make a petition to those greeting card companies! Brand Ambassador – who else but Jalebi B(h)ai!
There are three main temples in Ghatkopar, a bastion of Gujjus in Mumbai, where they make a beeline for to buy their Jalebis. Haribhai kandoi, Morbiwala and Tip Top. Preparations at all these shops begin at least a week in advance. Massive amounts of oil, besan, sugar etc are ordered and stocked. A day before, huge pandals are put up to cope with the throbbing crowd. A makeshift kitchen is created to deal with the demand. Temporary staff are hired. The air is abuzz with excitement. The atmosphere at these halwai shops is electrifying. In Gujarat you can multiply the shops, excitement and buzz by a million times.
The Dusshera day dawns. I wake up at 7.45 am and curse myself, fearing a huge queue. These shops open sharp at 6 am. By 6.05 am, 5 people must already have reached there standing and waiting. I get ready quickly and by 8.30 am I reach Morbiwala. The scenes there are just as I expected. There are atleast 70 people in queue. Which keeps getting longer by the minute. But no one seems to mind the wait. The good things in life always need patience and are worth waiting for. A few uncles have come prepared for the long wait, carrying newspapers and books to while away the time. Most have come in groups. A couple of uncles and aunts behind me are in a jovial mood as they crack jokes and laugh merrily. I join in the fun.
Just then, one uncle comes out of Morbiwala, holding two bags and looks as pleased as punch. As he goes past us, the aroma of jalebis reaches my nose. I wonder how they would be. The shape, the texture, the crispness, the sweetness. And I tell myself that sometimes the pleasure undoubtedly lies in the wait, the anticipation. I look around. The onlookers faces reveal whether they are gujju or not. Gujjus just shrug and move on as if the long queue is nothing new. Non-gujjus stare curiously and wonder. On being told this was a line for jalebis, they open their eyes wide in disbelief. They have to taste it to believe it, I tell myself.
The line behind me snakes its way around the corner now. At least 50 more people are behind me now, eager to get their hands on the jalebis. Foreigners would be forgiven for thinking that the iPhoneX was about to be launched. Finally at about 9.45 am, I enter the shade of the pandal. The makeshift payment counter contains neat stacks of ten, fifty and hundred rupee notes and one, two and five rupee coins. I collect the coupon and present it to the serving counter. Finally I can see the jalebis. It’s love at first sight. Golden yellow. Sprinkled with kesar and rose petals. I take my parcel with glee and reach home.
At 10.15 am, I have my first bite of jalebi and ghatiya. They taste exactly as I had imagined. I relish the moment for some seconds. It felt as if I had been transported back to the dining room at my Nani’s house in Heysham Road, Calcutta all those years ago. The wait had been well worth it. And then some more.