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7 months ago

A CLOSE LOOK

Respecting the Geographical Indication

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With the recognition of 'kanchagolla' as a GI (Geographical Indication) product, Bangladesh has got its 17th such agricultural produce and traditional products of local origin. If 'rasogolla' heads the list of sweetmeats, kanchagolla does not lie far behind in appeal and taste so far as Bangalees' love for such food items is concerned. West Bengal has GI recognition for rasogolla because its origin dates back to 1868 in Kolkata at the hands of a confectioner named Nobin Chandra Das.  However, Odisa also claims that it was the first to introduce this delicious sweet item. But West Bengal received its GI tag in 2017.

So kanchagolla could also get GI approval earlier if the initiative for this recognition was taken before. This mouth-watering sweet also has a tradition of no less than two and a half centuries. According to a feature story carried in a Bangla contemporary, this sweet was made rather fortuitously by a sweetmeat shop owner in Natore named Madhusudan Paul. One day when his main man responsible for preparing different types of sweets failed to turn up, he was worried that the huge amount of curdled milk will spoil. Instantly, he instructed other working hands to mix sugar syrup with it for boiling. He did not know what he was doing but this is how kanchagolla came into being.

Indeed, kanchagolla has long been a candidate for the GI registration, so have been quite a few other items. Muktagachhar 'monda' is certainly one of those. A story runs like this: expert sweet makers from Muktagachha were taken to Kolkata for preparing this reputed sweet there. The hired person invested all his experience and skill to make monda like those of Muktagachha but failed. Investigation revealed that the milching cows forage on the bank and shore of the local river where grass has its special quality to give milk its unrivalled flavour. That indeed gives the monda of Muktagachha its distinctive taste.

No such story is in circulation --- or if there is any, this scribe is unaware of it --- about the specialty of Natore's kanchagolla. But surely, a product stands out from the rest because it has inalienable connection to not only the soil, environment, other natural gifts together with the skill of artisans. Consider the Rasomalai from Cumilla, which is another candidate for the GI recognition. Cumilla may claim the GI for its khadi clothes as well. But let's concentrate on sweetmeat like 'rasomalai', a favourite with food connoisseurs, particularly with special liking for sweet items. There are few Bangalees on both sides of the divide who do not have a preference for the best of the sweetmeats. As a Cumilla's special item, it far excels its rivals produced anywhere.

The problem here is that when a food or any other item has earned fame, there is imitation galore and the look-alike is passed off as the original. There is no harm in preparing the items, particularly where the consumable are concerned, but it does not allow one to market those as the brand items. For example, rasogolla produced in Gournadi could once beat those produced in Kolkata. Similarly the curd or yoghurt prepared also in Gournadi could come out in flying colours if pitted against the Bogura yoghurt. But the latter has already received the GI tag simply because of its older tradition and the support of the various local elements which together make the wonder about a product happen.

True, Gournadi also had grass of special kind alongside the shores of its river. The grass was in fact the alchemy for bringing in the flavour courtesy of the knowledge and skill of confectioners. Now those days are gone. One or two sweetmeat shops there are still trying to make sweets and curd as best as they can. But the main ingredient curdled milk has lost its quality and so has the sweetmeat and curd. In Dhaka City, what is passed off as Bogura yoghurt is produced in different areas of the capital. Such business is nothing but a total deception.

GI tag, however, should bring an end to such fake business. The problem is the authorities here are not serious enough with the reputation of products. If a product receives GI tag, it earns respect both locally and internally. But it is local initiatives that can preserve its originality and tradition. Fake manufacturers and traders have to be legally dealt with so that no compromise is made on quality of produce or products.

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