In the early 1930s, the brothers Aggarwal — Bhimsain and Banwari Lal — made their way from Bikaner to the capital of British-held territories in India. They settled in Mehrauli and continued with their ancestral business. “We are traditional mithaiwalas. Mehrauli, at the time, was densely populated and our business flourished. Gradually, we shifted to the heart of Delhi. What is now the Parliament police station used to be a sessions court. My father and uncle partnered with the owner of the court’s canteen and made sweetmeats to be sold there,” says Girish Aggarwal, the second-generation proprietor of Bengali Sweet House, in one of the oldest bazaars of Delhi, Bengali Market.
Built in 1930, by an Old Delhi businessman called Lala Bengali Mal Lohia, the marketplace intended to serve the workforce that toiled at the edifices of the new capital around Viceroy House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan). Lohia bought the land during a public auction and leased it to local businessmen who were erstwhile residents of Old Delhi. “Many of them used to go to the new capital to work and making their way back home was not easy. So, many shifted here. The market was built for their daily provisions. My uncle and father, using the money they had saved from working at the court canteen, bought this shop in 1937,” says Girish.
The shop, established in what was then called Bengali Mal Market, would sell mithai traditionally associated with Delhi — halwa, laddoo, patisa, son tikki and rabdi. Until, one day in the early 1940s, Ram Das, a Bengali from the railway station behind the marketplace, came to the shop proposing that he help them make rosogullas. Bhimsain tried the spongy ball of split milk and decided to display it in his shop, arguably the first establishment to have done so in the city.
Soon, along with the street snacks and mithai, they also became popular for their Bengali offerings — sandesh, cham cham and, of course, rosogulla. “Everyone began to associate us with these, then considered unusual, sweetmeats; and that’s how we were christened Bengali Sweets,” says Girish, whose incessantly buzzing phone is consistently answered with a “Shree Radhe!” As he hastily ends the conversation, he says, “nothing is possible without the blessings of God.”
Last year, the sprawling Bengali Sweets, already separated from the Pastry Shop, was further divided into two — one owned by Bhimsain’s children and the other by Girish and his elder brother Satish. Though, barely any alterations are visible on the menu, changes in attitude are palpable. Girish, however, dodges questions about the separation, muttering only a “difference of opinion” as the cause.
His son, Shreet, now helps him behind the counter. Gearing up to pass on the reins to his son, Girish says, “When I joined the business in 1984, I used to clash with my father over little things. The same happens with my son but that is important for change. Let’s see where he takes our family heritage.”