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Friday, August 19, 2022

Hariprabha Takeda: A Bengali Bride in Early 20th Century Japan

 

In 1907, Hariprabha Basu Mallick (1890-1972), a young Brahmo middle class woman from Dhaka, fell in love and married Oemon Takeda (1875-1949), a Japanese soap maker, who was hired as a manager by her father. Her progressive Brahmo family strongly believed in constructive social work. Apart from establishing this soap factory, they also ran a home for destitute women, Matri Niketan in Dhaka. In fact, Hariprabha, before and after her marriage, was closely associated with this home for women. It is not clear exactly how Oemon reached India or Calcutta but during the Swadeshi movement (1905-11), a number of new age soap factories came up in Dhaka, including the Bulbul Soap Factory, where Oemon was employed. After their marriage, Oemon set up his own Dhaka Soap Factory. 


Rabindranath Tagore in Japan, 1916

This unlikely marriage between a Japanese chemist and a young Bengali woman in Dhaka needs to be seen in the overall context of Bengal’s fascination with Japan at that point. Rise of Japan as an Asian power – as attested by Japan’s victory against Russia in 1904-05 – had captured the imagination of Bengal, then in the throes of the Swadeshi movement. Umpteen number of Bengali children born around the turn of the century had their nicknames after prominent Japanese war heroes and politicians. One of the major planks of Swadeshi in Bengal was economic self-reliance through both traditional means and modern technology. Japan appeared to be a role model in that respect too. Bengalis collected money to send talented youngsters to Japan to learn new technologies. Some of them came back to play pioneering roles in new industries like machine-made potteries or chrome tanning. They also welcomed Japanese technicians proficient in various trades like Oomen.

Okakura Kakuzo (1863-1913)

For Rabindranath, Bengal’s premier cultural icon, Japan remained a lifelong obsession. Interaction between him and the famous Japanese artist and art critic Okakura in Calcutta in the early twentieth century inaugurated the Indo-Japan relations in modern times. Rabindranath visited Japan four times and was hailed as a symbol of rising Asia (later on, his stringent criticism of rabid nationalism compelled Japanese intellectuals in turn to criticise him and begin their own introspection). Japanese culture left an indelible imprint on Rabindranath – he started writing short poems in Japanese fashion (haiku) and introduced in Shantiniketan, Japanese style ink and wash paintings, flower-designing (Ikebana), marshal art (Jujutsu) and carpentry with Japanese teachers. Apart from Rabindranath, Okakura Kakuzo (also known as Okakura Tenshin) developed close friendship with stalwarts of Bengali socio-cultural life, including Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita and painters like Abanindranath and Gaganendranath. Okakura also developed a romantic liaison with Priyambada Debi (1871-1935), a leading Bengali poetess and she translated Okakura’s famous book The Book of Tea in Bengali. 

Rabindra-Okakura Bhavan in Kolkata, inaugurated by Prime Minister Abe in 2007, was a result of lifelong efforts of Tagore scholar Prof Kazuo Azuma (1931-2011), who spent long years in Shantiniketan

Five years after her marriage, Hariprabha sailed with her husband and some of his Japanese friends to meet her in-laws. This was the first known voyage of a South Asian woman to Japan in modern times. After a long journey, they finally reached Oemon’s family in a village near Nagoya. Despite the language barrier, Hariprabha was warmly welcomed by her mother-in-law and other relatives of Oemon. Hariprabha, in turn, observed the Japanese social life through her keen eyes. In those days, the Japanese, particularly outside the major cities, had seen very few foreigners. Their visit had naturally been a matter of popular interest and a Japanese newspaper, Kobe Yushin Nippo had published an interview of the couple. Three years after her maiden voyage to Japan, in 1915 she published what seems to be a rather straight forward account of what she saw in Japan.

First Edition of Hariprabha's book, proceeds were to be used for Matri Niketan

Published by her sister Shantiprabha, Banga Mahilar Japan Jatra (Journey of a Bengali Woman to Japan) was not the first or the only account of Japan travel in Bengali. At least two Bengalis had published their travelogues by 1910 – Japan Probas by Manmathanath Ghosh (1882-1944) and Japan by Sureshchandra Bandopadhyay (1882-?).  A number of eminent Bengalis had visited Japan either before her or around the same time – the list includes Swami Vivekananda, who was perhaps the earliest, followed by scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, historian Jadunath Sarkar and social scientist Benoy Kumar Sarkar, who in 1923 published a large scholarly book on Japan titled Nabin Asia r Janmadata Japan (Japan, the Mother of New Asia). Rabindranath’s much-acclaimed account Japan Jatri (A Sojourn to Japan) would come out in 1919, three years after her first visit to the land of rising sun.

But what sets Hariprabha’s story apart is her unique perspective – none of the others could gain entry into Japanese social life as a family member. She wrote about the lives of ordinary Japanese women, their social and child-rearing practices (and her implicit criticism of Bengali social mores) – themes which were generally absent in our travelogues.

Hariprabha (in dark saree) with Netaji

Even as the Second World War raged on, Hariprabha went back to Japan a third time in 1941 under much strained circumstances (her second trip in 1924 was undocumented). Plagued by illness, her husband had to close down his soap-making unit and he was also afraid of being jailed by the British government. Her writing paints a dark picture of war-torn Japan – death in almost every family, food ration, broken roads, and a general atmosphere of crisis. Amidst all these, Hariprabha risked her life to find money and medicine for her ailing husband. When she writes about her experience of meeting Rashbehari Bose or Subhas Chandra in Japan, personal recollections merge seamlessly with the historical narrative. Rashbehari Bose offered her a job of Bengali newsreader for Azad Hind Radio and every night, she walked through dark, bomb-battered streets of Tokyo to go to the radio station.

Shortly after the end of the War, the couple shifted back to India (Judge Pal of the Tokyo trial fame was among the well-wishers, who had helped them with the passage money) and started living with one of her sisters in Jalpaiguri. Oemon, physically unwell and completely heartbroken by the fall of Japan, passed away soon after. Later in her life, Hariprabha shifted to Kalyani with one of her nephews and eventually passed away in 1972 in Calcutta’s Shambhunath Pandit hospital when hardly anyone remembered her story. Today, along with Rabindranath, Okakura, Rashbehari, Judge Pal and Subhas Bose, her story is also counted as one of the milestones of the Japan-India/Bengal relations.

A Bangladeshi scholar, Monzurul Huq located a copy of Hariprabha’s book in London’s India Office library and published it in 1999. Since then, there has been a lot of interests in Hariprabha’s extraordinary life and her writings. A recent translation by Somdatta Mandal features her handwritten experience of Second World War ravaged Japan and some other relevant pieces. In 2012, exactly 100 years after her epoch-making first visit to Japan, filmmaker Tanvir Mokammel made a documentary on her life titled ‘Japani Badhu’ (The Japanese Wife). In 2021, another documentary on her life titled Hariprabha Takeda: An Unsung Traveller of Bengal was produced by Eliza Binte Elahi.

Priyanka Yoshikawa Ghosh

In these hundred years, both her homeland and Japan have undergone tremendous changes. Amidst renewed interests in Hariprabha’s life, a fluent Bengali-speaking Priyanka Yoshikawa Ghosh became Miss Japan in 2016. Her father is a Bengali settled in Japan and her Japanese mother is a Bengali teacher by profession (Priyanka also happens to be the great-granddaughter of Bengal’s first Chief Minister Prafulla Ghosh). Excitement over her success briefly brought back the memories of Bengal’s fascination with Japan more than a century back. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

A Brief History of Women in Jeans

Timeless elegance of white on
blue: Cindy Crawford

Many years ago, as evening was about to descend on a   grey-coloured city, I saw a girl in blue jeans and a crisp white shirt from a bus window. It was a small road, more like a lane in Calcutta’s crowded Burrabazar area overflowing with people (almost all working class male) and buses stuck in a nightmarish traffic snarl, so typical of Calcutta in those days. All buildings, shops, everything around were covered in soot and dust. There were small puddles in the road after a sharp pre-monsoon shower and of course, no sidewalk. In the midst of all that she walked in her blue jeans. Even then I did not really notice her features but the timeless elegance and romance of a girl in blue jeans – in this case, heightened by the unlikely surroundings of grimy working class Calcutta is still fresh in my memory.


Jeans: A Riveting Story

The word ‘denim’ came from de Nimes (that is from the French city of Nimes), where such twill fabric was originally produced. French weavers were actually trying to reproduce a sort of cotton corduroy much in vogue among the workers and soldiers of the Italian city of Genoa (Gênes in French, thus ‘jeans’).

Almost all such denim cloth was daubed in indigo, a plant-based dye from India (I have blogged about indigo here). This shows the British connection to blue denim.

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis

As the story goes, the modern jeans or denim trouser with metal rivets was invented in California when a tailor Jacob Davis started making such trousers for miners. Soon, Davis in partnership with his cloth supplier Levi Strauss obtained a trade mark for their unique trouser on May 20, 1873. This was however known as ‘overalls’ till the 1960s, when baby boomers started calling them ‘jeans’.

Romance in Blue

Patent of Strauss and Davis expired in 1890s and by then blue denim overalls had become the uniform of the American working class. In the First World War, Lee Union-Alls jeans were the standard issue for all US military workers.

Gary Cooper: Denim by then became the favourite dress of Hollywood cowboys

In the 1920s and 1930s, handsome Hollywood cowboys like Gary Cooper started wearing blue denim trousers. This was the beginning of the romance with jeans. During the Second World War (1939-1945), American soldiers introduced their off-duty blue overalls to the World. This was how the global conquest of denim began.  But before we talk about the women in jeans, we need to rewind a bit.

Freedom Machines

Between 1880 and 1895, a women cycling craze swept through the western world. Riding bicycles did not only give them the freedom of movement but also ushered in a great change in women’s fashion. Women wearing trousers was something absolutely dreadful for most of the 19th century in Europe and the USA. In fact, in many US cities it was a punishable offence.

Thanks to this bicycle craze, soon the Victorian fashion of long gowns/skirts were replaced by different types of leggings. For a while, conservative observers struggled to decide what was worse – women smoking or showing their ankles in public. Eventually this change paved the way for women wearing trousers in western societies.

Ginger Rogers in jeans

By the 1930s, some of the top Hollywood icons including Gingers Rogers wore denim pants, turning it into a fashion statement for women too.

Rebellious Jeans

James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause


Marlon Brando wore jeans on and off screen

Post-War, in the 1950s, denim trousers became the preferred leisure wear for the American youth. With stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean wearing jeans on and off the screen, denim trousers became a rage. In the 1960s, both the hippies as well as the youth protesting against the Vietnam War were invariably denim-clad. Now known as jeans, denim trousers emerged as the uniform of protest.

Madonna in ripped jeans

Ripped jeans also started life as part of this counter-culture trend sometime in the late 1970s- early 80s. Celebrities like Iggy Pop (who claimed to have pioneered this in 1978), Sex Pistols and then Madonna popularized ripped jeans.


Nothing comes between me and my Calvins: The most scandalous campaign of that time

By the end of the 1970s, jeans conquered the world of high fashion too. In 1976, Calvin Klein became the first top designer to put denim on the ramp. And in 1981, when a 15-year old Brooke Shields famously declared that nothing comes between her and Calvin Klein jeans, it came to the fashion centre stage.

Jeans as Fashion

Youngsters started sporting jeans in India from the late 1970s. Amitabh Bachchan was spotted wearing a denim in Sholay (1975). But teenagers in the 80s were mostly dependent on relatives bringing them a fashionable pair from abroad. Before we graduated to Levi’s, Lee or Wrangler, we all had Newport, Ruff & Tuff or Excalibur jeans (most of these brands were from Arvind Mills, which by the mid-1990s emerged as the largest denim manufacturer in the world).

Like in the West, by the 1990s in India also, Jeans emerged as a truly democratic fashion transcending social, economic and gender barriers. There were almost seasonal changes in Jeans trends in the West (check out here), but in India, we roughly remember the transition from classic fit to baggy trousers of the 1990s to low-waist of the 2000s and then back to a more fitted classic look. And of course, not to forget acid-washed or ripped varieties or the embroidered ones for girls.

For men, Khakis replaced jeans as the go-to leisure/casual trousers in the late 1990s. For Indian women, however, by then not only jeans were irreplaceable but also perhaps the most versatile trouser option. Jeans could be paired with white or simple tops for a casual chic looks or with kurti and bangles for an ethnic look or with boots and stylish tops/jackets, jeans could also hit high fashion notes.

Jeans as Freedom

In the 1920s, when a handful of progressive Indian women started cycling to Lucknow’s Isabella Thoburn College or on the streets of Lahore, it was a shock for the urban middle class India. Today even in the most socio-economically backward states of the country, there are popular government schemes to provide cycles to girls.

There is no better friend for most Indian women, especially students and working women, than a pair of hardy blue jeans to travel in crowded Indian public transport, braving water-logged streets in monsoon or numerous other roadblocks. Bans announced frequently by some village/khap panchayats or college principals on women wearing jeans are nothing but an expression of patriarchy, crude attempts to curtail their freedom.

Look beyond those (rightly) protesting on Twitter against a recent thoughtless remark by a politician; every time you see a girl coming out of tenements or rural areas to go to work in her denim trousers - like those ladies riding cycles to their freedom decades back - you know she wants to give wings to her dreams. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Epidemic Goddess and the First “Tika”

It was a worship like no other. Amidst chanting of mantras and beating of drums and blowing of conch shells, the priest specially called for this ceremony would approach a child, make a small incision on her forehead and apply something he brought with him. The child would then be isolated and given cold food for the next few days. Women would draw alpanas/rangolis outside the room and often break into songs or stories related to the goddess they worshipped in this fashion.

As the child contracted mild fever they would celebrate the success of their effort – this was the surest sign that the child had been blessed by the deity. Over the next few days, this fever would subside and the child would recover. For the rest of her life, this goddess would protect the child and she would carry that mark, ‘tika’ on her forehead.

Goddess Sitala, rides on a donkey and holds a broom to ward off disease and a pitcher of cold water – Kalighat Patachitra

The special priest (often called ‘tikadar’) normally came from the lower castes like that of mali (gardener) or napit (barber) in Bengal and even when they were Brahman by caste, they were often lower in status. Working between November and early March, they collected pus from small pox patients, preserved it carefully in bamboo containers and then diluted it to apply on children in exchange of a fee.This was the unique ritual of goddess Sitala, the cold one, who promised to drive away fever (more specifically small pox and measles). From the Puranas, which described her as another form of Durga, who rose from a sacrificial fire along with Jwarasura (the demon of fever), she was celebrated in folk stories and medieval mangal kavyas of Bengal.

Taming Jwarasura

Till it was eradicated worldwide through vaccination in 1980, there was no cure for small pox. For centuries, small pox outbreaks killed millions globally. But it was known that the survivors of small pox did not contract the disease again. This observation led to the invention of artificially inducing immunity.  

The method of inoculation followed by the worshippers of Sitala is called variolation (from variola or Latin for pox). It appears from the descriptions of European observers in the 18th century that such inoculation was widely prevalent in Sitala’s home territories of North and Eastern India. But not so much in deep South, where goddess Mariamma takes over her role. Learning from Brahman practitioners in Odisha and Northern Andhra, British doctors started inoculating Europeans and Company soldiers in and around Madras in the late 1780s.

Variolation in China happened through blowing of powdered small pox material into nostrils

By the 17th century, apart from India this was a common practice in China (where the practice might have started around 1000 CE and we have documentary evidence from around 1600 CE) and large parts of Africa. Variolation might have originated independently in these three geographies or spread from one to another.

Lady Mary Montagu

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Court in Istanbul in 1717 famously wrote a letter to her friend Sarah Chiswell in England describing variolation practice she witnessed in Turkey. Lady Mary, herself a victim of small pox, had her children inoculated and played an important part in spreading the practice in England.

Dr Zabdiel Boylston inoculating patients in Boston 1721 after Cotton Mather learnt about inoculation in Africa

Similarly after a devastating small pox epidemic in Boston in 1721, a Puritan Minister Cotton Mather promoted variolation – a practice he learnt from his West African slave Onesimus.

Goddesses of Plague

Sitala was not the first goddess of epidemic. Buddhist goddess of small pox, Hariti appeared in Gandhara around two thousand years ago. Buddhist myths say, Hariti (the name suggests someone who steals), was a child eating ogress but turned into a protector of children after coming into contact with Gautam Buddha.

Hariti Statue (Gandhar region - 1st-2nd century CE), her iconography was inspired by that of Greek Goddess Tyche

Between 165-180 CE, a small pox or measles epidemic killed 5 million people across Europe and Asia. In Roman history it was known as the Antonine Plague. At least three decades before that a similar plague ravaged the Kushan Empire, leading to a profusion of Hariti images in Gandhar region. Historians believe probably the same epidemic travelled to Europe through the Silk Route.

Gradually, Hariti transformed into both fever and fertility goddess and lived on for many centuries across the subcontinent. Her images have been found from Afghanistan to Rajshahi in present Bangladesh and also in Andhra. She even travelled to Japan as goddess Kishimojin.

Parnashabari - 11th century statue from Bangladesh, a small Sitala visible as her companion at the bottom right 

The other Buddhist fever goddess was Parnashabari. Her name literally means leaf-clad tribal lady. She was popular in Vajrayana/tantric Buddhism in Eastern India. Interestingly Sitala initially appeared as her companion. Her cult gradually disappeared or ceded ground to Sitala but even now she lives on as a goddess in Tibetan Buddhism

In the absence of any effective treatment, it was normal all over the world to invoke deities for relief from dreaded diseases. Bengal is still dotted with temples or areas marked after Sitala or such other deities like Olai Chandi or Ola Bibi (for Muslims) for cholera, goddess Raktabati for blood infection and Ghe(n)tu for skin disease.

But Sitala is different from all other deities in the sense that her worshippers tried to address the disease through scientific intervention.

Variolation to Covid Vaccine

English physician Edward Jenner (1749-1823) is considered the father of vaccination. On 14th May 1796, Jenner inoculated (he took pus from cow pox blisters of a milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes) his gardener’s 8 year old son James Phipps, who had mild symptoms for a few days but recovered soon. Small pox did not have any effect on Phipps during subsequent inoculations.

Edward Jenner

In rural England, many people noticed that dairymaids did not suffer from small pox and that led them to think about a possible connection between cow pox and small pox. We know at least two cases before Jenner (Benjamin Jesty in England in the 1770s and Peter Plett in Germany in1791), where similar methods were used to inoculate a few. But the credit for scientifically pursuing it and convincing people for vaccination goes entirely to Edward Jenner (the word vaccine came from “vacca” – Latin for cow).

In 1879, Louis Pasteur came up with the first laboratory-made vaccine (for chicken cholera). Since then vaccines for polio, tetanus, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and other killer diseases have revolutionized not only medical science but also human history.

From those early days of inoculation by Sitala worshippers to the latest Covid vaccines, technology has changed immensely but the essential approach - of inserting weakened antigens to trigger immune response - remains the same. And the legacy of early small pox inoculation is preserved through the continuous use of the word ‘tika’ in Bengali, Hindi and several other Indian languages. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Biscuits: An Indian Love Story


The best biscuit for dunking into tea revealed | The Independent

What is the item we all have consumed most during the lockdown (other than broadband)? Well, India in any case, is the largest biscuit-consuming nation in the world and we just raised the bar even higher. Less than a year ago (August 2019), the makers of India’s most favourite biscuit said that the economic conditions had deteriorated so much that they were struggling to maintain the sales volume of even Rs 5 pack of Parle G. And in April this year, amidst lockdown, Parle G recorded its highest ever sales!

Best rusk | Milk Rusk | Britannia Rusk | Bonn Rusk
Baked left-over breads were the first biscuits - we now call them rusk

Have you ever wondered about the history of this humble yet indispensable snack?  The word ‘biscuit’ came from a French word (bis-qui), which, in turn, had originated from a Latin word (biscotus) – it basically means ‘twice baked’. There is no doubt that at least since the Roman times, people had been baking the left-over bread again to preserve it. This is what we call rusk today. This was handy for the soldiers and long-distance travellers.We know for sure that since the time of the Crusades (1096-1271 CE), European armed forces, especially navies, had been stocking up on biscuits. For more than two centuries, till around 1840 (when canned beef was introduced), the standard ration of the British Navy had two fixed elements – biscuits and a drink, first beer and later rum. But these were hard (and quite inedible) biscuits, which had to be dunked in some liquid first. These came to be known as hard tack biscuits. The oldest preserved biscuit today is one such naval issue from 1784. 

13th April 1784 - the oldest surviving biscuit in the world - today preserved in Britain's National Maritime Museum. A hard tack biscuit given to wood engraver Thomas Berwick

Today it is difficult to imagine that hardly 150 years back biscuit was an absolute novelty for Indians. Just like bread, it was the Portuguese, who introduced biscuits in Bengal (and perhaps in Goa/Western Coast also). The first known reference to biscuits made in Bengal came from the famous French traveller and jeweller, Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689), who wrote in the 1660s that the port of Hooghly was a good place to stock up on biscuits for return journey. For the next 100 years or so, the bakeries of Portuguese-influenced Hooghly, of Dutch Chinsurah and French Chandannagar remained the main suppliers of bread and biscuits to Calcutta.


Rajnarayan Bose, ;eading intellectual of his generation and maternal grandfather of Sri Aurobindo - when he joined Brahmo Samaj in the 1840, celebrated the event with biscuits and sherry with his friends - having biscuits openly was an act of rebellion for them

The first commercial bakeries in Calcutta came up near the dock area and Khidirpore. These bakeries were run by the Portuguese/people of European descent first and then by Muslims. Right from the beginning, the majority population of the city that is Bengali Hindus, found both bread and biscuits irresistible in taste but these remained forbidden food items for long. In the 1840s, when a young Rajnarayan Bose (1826-1899) – one of the most famous intellectuals of his generation and maternal grandfather of Sri Aurobindo – took the oath to join the Brahmo Samaj, he celebrated it with his friends by sharing biscuits and sherry!! It was an act of revolt for them. Revolutionary leader, Bipin Chandra Pal (1858-1932) recalled in his autobiography that in his childhood it was an exciting adventure to buy bread and biscuits from the only shop (that too Muslim-owned) selling these items in Sylhet town and to consume it at night once the entire household was asleep.



Here ITC To Boroline: These 7 Iconic Brands Were Started In West ...
By the 14th century, biscuits were well-known in England. However, from the 17th century, British slave trading and subsequent sugar plantations in the West Indies powered by slave labour made sugar easily available and affordable. This completely revolutionized British baking – soon there were great variety of cake and biscuits for every occasion. From the 18th century, tea, especially afternoon tea, became almost a British ritual and biscuits found a pride of place there.

Biscuit tin forgotten for 25 years found to be worth £1,500 | The ...


In the 19th century, with the growing popularity of tea and travel, a variety of easily consumable biscuits came to be manufactured in Britain. The company, which represented the best of this tradition and one of the first global brands – Huntley Palmers – started their operations in Bristol in 1822. By 1900, their products, perfectly preserved in beautiful tin boxes were to be found all over the world from Tibet to heart of Africa and from North Pole to New Zealand. 

Grand Duchess Marie Alaxandrovna with her husband Prince Alfred
For some time in the second half of the 19th century, biscuits enjoyed a golden period. When Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred in 1874 married Tsar’s daughter Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, one of the leading British biscuit manufacturers, Peek Frean, created a special biscuit called ‘Marie’.


Pelitis Restaurant - The Legend of the Lost
Federico Peliti opened Calutta's first stand alone fine dining restaurant with an in-house bakery in 1881
Back in Calcutta, there were more respectable options for the British now as hotels like the Wilson’s started their own bakeries. In 1881, Federico Peleti opened Calcutta’s first upmarket standalone restaurant along with an in-house bakery. However, the problem persisted for the Hindu upper caste till 1887, when a Bengali gentleman named Girish Chandra Mandal and I do not know anything else about him – opened a biscuit manufacturing unit in Central Calcutta. Soon the business grew so fast that he had to request his neighbour Nalin Chandra Gupta, a lawyer by profession, to help him out. Their venture was known as VS Brothers. Soon Mr Gupta came to be the driving force behind the venture. The company was renamed Gupta and Company and they set up a much bigger unit at Dum Dum and started selling biscuits under the brand name of ‘Hindu Biscuits’. As you can well imagine, during the Swadeshi days (1905-11), the company did roaring business.

In 1913, again under what circumstances I have no clue, this company took on board an English gentleman by the name of C H Holmes and subsequently it was renamed Britannia Industries during the First World War (1914-1919).


Britannia Marie Gold, 250g: Amazon.in: Grocery & Gourmet Foods

In 1970, three major British biscuit makers - Huntley and Palmers, Jacobs and Peek Frean amalgamated to create Associated Biscuits. This Associated Biscuits held a major stake in the Britannia Industries. Now you know how your tea time favourite Britannia Marie came about - traversing the channels of colonial commerce (in 1982, Nabisco acquired Associated Biscuits and in 1989, Nabisco sold the Associated Biscuit brands to Danone; Britannia today is majority owned by Danone and their Indian partner Nusli Wadia).  




Parle Performance Boost Amid Coronavirus Crisis | HW English
World's best selling biscuit - it's an emotion, an identity to millions of Indians
Parle G is not just a biscuit but as it trended in twitter recently, it is an emotion and an identity of our rootedness. Many of us would remember the original ‘Swad bhare Shakti bhare’ Parle G campaign with a dadaji and his grandkids from the 1980s. With sales of more than 5000 crore for this single product, this is the highest selling biscuit in the world. Parle Products baked their first biscuit in the village of Parla, near Bombay in 1939 and right from the beginning branded itself as a swadeshi product (bharat ka apna biscuit).

Frontier Biscuits, Surat - Restaurant - Surat, Gujarat | Facebook ...

In most cities of Punjab and North India, still there would be at least one National Bakery, producing old style biscuits and other savouries. I do not know much about them but I am quite sure that their origin was also somewhat like the Hindu biscuits in Calcutta. Frontier Biscuit, today well known for premium eggless biscuits in North India, was established in West Punjab in 1921 and probably came from the same tradition.

In every major airport today, you will find Hyderabad's Karachi Bakery selling famous Osmania biscuit
West Bengal is one of the top biscuit-consuming states (of course along with Maharashtra, home of Parle G) and Calcutta continues to be the biscuit capital of India. Britannia, ITC and Priya – three leading Indian biscuit manufacturers are based in Calcutta today. As the famous Irani chai of Hyderabad is intrinsically linked with sweet and salty Osmania biscuits, similarly, roadside tea stalls in Calcutta sell an enviable range of local bakery-produced biscuits. 



Some of these are rusk (the famous lero biscuit, to be dunked in steaming hot tea, served from a large brass kettle into your earthen cup), biscuits flavoured with kalo jire (onion-seeds) or the all-time favourite, projapoti (butterfly) biscuit (I just discovered that there is a recent Bengali film by that name). 


Projapoti Biskut (Bengali) - Box Office, Cast, Budget & Reviews

These biscuits taste somewhat different from the regular ones – I am not sure why. My friend and food blogger, Ranjini tells me, perhaps because they use dalda. 



We have surely come a long way since those days when having biscuits could pose risk to one's religion and also the romance of Huntley Palmers, but our love affair with biscuits continues to deepen.