The Odiyas drew first, but the taste of defeat hangs heavy as lead on Odisha’s palate. In 2014, Jagannath scholar Asit Mohanty had submitted a 100-page report to the state government stating that the rosogolla was cited in the Odiya Ramayana of Balaram Das and had been offered to the state’s gods six centuries ago. The Bengalis, with whom the sweet is associated as closely as Chianti is with the Italians, were outraged at being accused of filching it later. Had they not proselytised the rosogolla the world over? They have literally weaponised it — along with guns, knives and explosives, notices in Kolkata’s airport explicitly ban rosogollas from baggage.
Now, they stand vindicated. For, the IPR cell in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion has granted geographical indication (GI) status to “banglar rosogolla”. No one can fiddle with it anymore. Of course, the protection extends only to the real thing, not the round, sweetened bathroom sponges peddled all over India as rasgullas. Led by its chief minister, West Bengal is celebrating its equivalent of the return of the Kohinoor diamond or the Elgin Marbles.
But the elevated Bengali palate may be stunned by some other GI products — the compellingly odorous Goa feni, Nagaland’s bhut jolokia, the street-level Bikaneri bhujia and the Coimbatore wet grinder, which is entirely inedible. Banglar rosogolla belongs in a mixed bag. Nevertheless, no Bengali would deny that it was worth fighting for. And anyway, squabbling over rosogollas beats fighting over beef. However, it is noteworthy that the GI is in the name of one state’s product. What is to prevent the Odiyas from trying to register their own variant, which bears a different name? Or to champion the claims of the autochthonous chhena podo, which sweet-loving Bengalis never fail to bring home from their travels in Odisha?