Delicacies made from sesame seed and jaggery, such as gajak, have long been a seasonal favourite across much of the Indian subcontinent. In the last few decades however, the confection has also gained a unique popularity in the city of Rawalpindi, which has been drawing locals and tourists with a sweet-tooth to come enjoy the cantonment city’s favorite delicacies.
According to Mehboob Ahmed, an old-hand confectioner who’s been running a sweetshop in Rawalpindi’s Cantt Bazaar, the neighborhood’s close proximity to the train station has allowed it to be a frequent haunt for tourists from all over the country. The influence of which, has perhaps helped the Rawalpindi neighbourhood in developing a diverse street-food scene, similar to other urban cities.
“When my father migrated from Sharanpur, India and settled in Cantt Bazaar, there weren’t as many sweetshops in the area. But there were a lot of hotels in the neighbourhood, so travelers would often pass through here. Seeing the potential for business, my family started this little sweetshop over 90 years ago. Our sesame seed laddos and barfis used to be very popular in Sharanpur and my family is among the first businesspeople to introduce these delicacies to Pakistan,” said the confectioner.
Where one would expect Ahmed’s business to have grown manifolds over time, the truth is that the sweetshop still operates much in the same fashion as it did some nine decades ago— from a push-cart under the open sky, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the teeming Cantt Bazaar. “As Indian immigrants, we had no generational wealth or capital to invest in this business.
It appears, however, that even government officials aren’t immune to the lure of Mehboob Ahmed’s oven-hot delicacies, which are often robbed from his stall every time there’s an anti-encroachment raid. “We let them take what they want. If we refuse, they will make operating business even more difficult for us than it already is,” lamented the sweetshop owner.
According to Ahmed, dealing with government officials is only half of the ordeal, while the greatest threat to his business comes from growing inflation.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 6th, 2021.
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