Sometime in the early 90’s: Pleated navy blue skirt hitting an inch below the knees. White shirt with a slight tinge of blue from the overuse of Ujala fabric whitener. White ribbon on wedge-cut hair. A pair of white socks, its elastic garter slowly losing hold. Kiwi-polished Bata, black, ballerina shoes. Duckback school bag and Milton water bottle.
The best part of packing the school bag was undoubtedly putting the stainless steel tiffin box in its designated slot. The tiffin box representing a break from the otherwise interminable school hours.
One of the most frequent item in my tiffin box would be a duck-shaped sweetmeat. A white duck with black cardamom eyes and orange coloring to highlight its conical beak. The design was not intricate except for the feather-like lines etched on it, showcasing the confectioner’s dexterity. It had an overdose of sugar, but I liked it that way. I used to call it haansh mishti. Haansh is Bengali for duck and mishti for sweet. My father would buy this sweet for me from the local sweet shop, which was on our way to the bus-stop from where I boarded the school bus.
During lunch break I often bartered a part of this confection duck for other treats that my friends had brought along for the day.
Sometime in April this year: I was at the main campus of Calcutta University, in College Street, to collect my transcripts. College Street is the intellectual hub of Kolkata; it houses Calcutta University and Presidency University. It is known as boi para (book lane) as the street is lined with book stores, one after another, on both sides. There are also a number of legendary local eateries, which have been around for decades like the Coffee House, Paramount and Putiram.
My sister and I had planned on visiting the famous Putiram Sweets. And once our work was done we headed toward the store. This confectionery shop has been in the area for over 150 years now and is an institution by itself.
There were rows of sweets, of myriad colors and shapes, displayed in the glass showcase. And to my surprise I found my favorite duck-shaped confection displayed on a silver plate. I was elated and promptly ordered a few pieces to take home. I quickly began to take pictures. A customer noticed this. “Haansh er ki shoubhagyo (The duck is really lucky)!” he said sarcastically.
After taking a bite I realized that many things have changed over the years. The duck was missing the cardamom eyes; it had red eyes painted on them. Instead of the whole beak painted orange, it was just a stroke of orange on top of the beak, the rest being white. On top of that the way it tasted didn’t bear any resemblance to the ones that I used to get at my local shop years ago. And not to mention the price had gone up by 500%!
Nevertheless it brought back some sweet memories.