If you’re craving a taste of the original Badauni pedha (a sweet from the Indian subcontinent), you must visit the ‘Badauni Pedha House’ in Mardan that still holds the same taste and aroma.
Pedhas are grainy balls of condensed milk, or khoya, mixed with sugar and spices. They have also been used as religious offerings in Hindu temples.
The family of semi-literate farmers says that they went into the business because they “didn’t know anything better to do”.
While the delicacy spread to various parts of India early on, its advent in northwestern Pakistan dates back to 1950 when a few villagers from India’s Bareilly district set up a shop in Mardan.
The ambiance of the shop is not dissimilar to most traditional sweet outlets in Pakistan and India; it is small and untidy, housed on the ground floor of a narrow, ramshackle three-storey building. It is located on the first floor, but trading is brisk for a city like Mardan. According to a salesman, they sell an average of 200kg of pedhas a day, besides other sweets.
Mehmood Ali Khan, 78 and now retired, says he is not the original founder of the business. He was just eight-years-old when India was divided.
“When partition happened, two of my seven brothers – the eldest and the one at number four – decided to migrate to Pakistan,” he says.
“They said they would assess the situation and make arrangements for the rest of the family to relocate. However, they faced problems – they couldn’t find anything they could do for a living. So my elder brother, Ibne Ali Khan, decided to introduce Badauni pedhas in Mardan.”
Back then, locals were strangers to the taste of a north Indian pedha. Ibne Ali’s pedha was still some years from mimicking the addictive, mildly sweet milky tinge of the Badauni variety. After a year, their mother started to fret.
“She said that the family ought to stay together; that either my two brothers came back to Sirauli (the family’s native village in Bareilly district of India), or everyone went to Pakistan.”
Under the partition rules, his brothers, having migrated, could not return to India as Indian nationals, and they still did not have Pakistani passports to travel as visitors. Therefore, the family decided that two more brothers, third-eldest Mehfuz Ali Khan and fifth-eldest Mohammad Ali Khan, should join them in Pakistan to expedite a final plan. But the family was not destined to reunite under one roof until the mid-1960s.
In the meantime, the four brothers who had moved to Pakistan filed claims for land compensation in lieu of what they said they had left behind in India. The claims were filed under a refugee resettlement plan devised by Pakistan and India – believed to be one of the largest in modern history. In addition, sometime in the early 1950s, the pedha business started to pick up.
“The only expertise Ibne Ali had brought to pedha making was a farmer’s knowledge of how to make khoa,” says Khan.
“We had grown up having buffaloes in our cattle pen and had watched the womenfolk condense leftover milk over a low flame. What he didn’t know was the exact recipe, the spices.”
This knowledge came in the early 1950s when, having received their Pakistani passports, Mehfuz Ali Khan and Mohammad Ali Khan went back to Sirauli. There they practised sweet-making at local outlets and then went to train at Badaun’s signature pedha shop, set up by the famous Mamman Khan.
“They arranged an apprenticeship at Mamman’s shop through our relatives in Bareilly. The shop owner loathed training potential competitors but agreed to share the secret recipe after Mehfuz Ali Khan gave him his word that he would do business in Pakistan, not India. They trained at Mamman’s shop for a couple of months before returning to Mardan.”
As the land claims of the brothers started to mature, it was time for the mother and two youngest brothers – the youngest of all, Mohammad Wali Khan, and Khan, the second-youngest – to migrate to Mardan.
“That was 1959. I was just 20 then. Our second-eldest brother, Mehboob Ali Khan, stayed back in Sirauli to sell off our holdings and clear debts. He migrated in 1964.”
By this time, most of the brothers had moved to the land allotted to them in Dera Ismail Khan, leaving the pedha business to young Mehmood Ali Khan.
Khan’s son, Ahmar Mehmood, who now runs the business, says that for most members of the family the pedha business was just a means to survive until they went back to farming.
“My father made a conscious decision to stick to this business. He came to Pakistan after the deadline for property claims had lapsed, and the business was doing well by then.”
But why would a landowning family abandon its place of birth and move to a country of strangers, especially when there were no serious communal riots in their region, and the family did not owe any ideological commitment to the ranks of All India Muslim League which had campaigned for a separate Muslim state in India?
Khan is not very clear. “I don’t know what went into their heads. They screwed us too,” he gives out a hearty laugh.
“When I’m in Bareilly, I’m always bewildered when I imagine how the family got split right through the middle. The love we get there feels like a different kind of love. Sometimes I do ask my father why they decided to leave that place. It would have been good if we stayed.”
The family has not done badly in Pakistan either. Most of them acquired land and went back to farming. One brother went to college and retired as a professor. And Khan owns a cosy house in the affluent Sham Ganj area of Mardan.
And while they may have suffered trials and tribulations, they did manage to bring with them one of the most enduring legacies of the region they left behind – the secret recipe of Badauni pedha.
This story originally appeared on BBC.