An array of handcarts line the crowded streets leading up to the Mahatma Phule Mandai flaunting their collection of gathis. Maruti Dhembe’s store is one of the bigger stalls that sits right in front of the Mandai. It sits diagonally opposite to the Agarwal Sweet Corner,the biggest wholesaler of gathis near Tulshibaug. The stringed sweets made of nine to twelve medallions of sugar have been the mainstay of the festival of Gudi Padwa. Little children are garlanded with these gathis. With celebrations for the upcoming festival on in full swing,these colourful treats are basking in the spotlight.
Business is good, says Dhembe. We have been in the business for the last 55 years. Now,over the last few years,the business has picked up well, he adds. With the city getting more and more cosmopolitan,its culture has spread to different communities. Now,even non-Maharashtrians celebrate the festival hence the boom in business.
But every story has two sides to it. A few paces away where Agarwal Sweet Corner is located,a story unfolds. The workforce is dwindling. There are very few new workers and a lot of the factories making the gathis have shut down too. Ours has been running for the last 60 years but a lot of them in Kasba Peth,Navi Peth and Shukrawar peth have closed down, says Amar Agarwal,owner of the store.
Interestingly there are new innovations in the market to support the rising sales,despite the dwindling workforce. The regular white gathis with patterned designs have made way for dry fruit and chocolate gathis. Others have plastic designs stuck on them. We came up with the idea last year and it clicked. Especially since the gathis are primarily for children,they love the variety. The ones with dry fruits and chocolates cost anywhere between Rs 50 to Rs 900. The heavier ones weigh upto 3.5 kgs and are mostly installed in temples, says Agarwal.
The gathis are made in traditional wooden moulds or saanchas. One mould has space to accommodate four to five gathis comprising either 9 or 12 medallions. The actual making time of the gathis is under 20 minutes. Dhembe explains that the sugar needs to boil and constant stirring is required so that the final product is clear and consistent. Our workers work an average of 12-14 hours daily to make around 200 kgs of gathis, he says.
Gaurav Dhembe,another wholesaler who retails his products from his factory in Kasba Peth,says,The moulds are made of sagun wood,and they last easily for four to five decades. However the workforce is reducing which has caused the craft to suffer a setback. We used to traditionally get the moulds from Jalna and Nagar but even that has reduced significantly.