Sweet days of Bogura's 'mithai' business returns, but slowly

Batasha, khagrai, kadma, moor-murki, sugar animals shapes and other traditional confections being sold on Monday at the Tuntuni mela in Rajapur, BoguraSoyel Rana

It's a sweet lover's haven, with fluffy white spheres of 'kadma', little sugary horses, elephants, fish and flowers, spread out on a bamboo tray. There are the salty 'nimki' too. There are big bowls of 'khagrai-batasha', sacks full of 'moori-murki', 'murali', sticky 'cheera moa' and so much more.

It was Monday and the 'mithai palli' -- where the famous confections of the Bogura district are made, in the village Haripur of Gokul union of the sadar upazila. An early morning visit to the village saw people streaming in from all over to buy sweets and take them to the local mela (fairs) all over. Last two years there had been a slump in the sweet business and this year too, there weren't too many advance orders. That is why the sweet sellers from all over were now thronging at this village to buy their ware.

Owners and workers at the various sweet factories in Haripur said that this year, too, the demand was less and business was down as Pahela Baishakh, the Bangla New Year, had arrived mid-Ramadan, during the fast. That is why they themselves were going to the various fairs.

They said that business had picked up considerably compared to the last two years during the coronavirus outbreak, but things had not returned to normal. There had been around Tk 1.5 million (Tk 15 lakh) business for the Baishakh festival this year. Prior to corona, the sweet business of this locality would make around Tk 2.5 million to Tk 3 million (Tk 25 lakh to Tk 30 lakh) during the Bangla New Year.

Fests and festivals

Normally the sweet factories in Haripur are busy the year round other than during the monsoons. They churn out sweets for all sorts of fests and festivals -- village fairs, Baishakhi mela, puja, Eid, Islamic mehfils and rites and rituals of so many other occasions. The sweet makers hardly get a moment's respite. They work round the clock on the variety of their confections which are bought by traders from all over the country. That is why Haripur is referred to as Mithai Palli or 'sweet village'.

How it all began

The village Haripur is located around 12km away from Bogura town, but the old Dinajpur Road. The people of this village for over a century have been making and selling traditional delicacies like moori-murki and such.

Then in the eighties Ranajit Chandra Das of Haripur noticed 'kadma' and sugary shapes at a mela and decided to make these sweet items. He bought kadma, sugar shapes, batasha, khagra and all sorts of sweets from the wholesalers Kalicharan Mohanta and Komol Mohanta in Bagjana of Joypurhat and began selling these at various fairs. Around 20 to 25 sweet vendors of Haripur followed in Ranajait's footsteps and bought these mithai from Bagjana, Joypurhat and began selling these at the various fairs.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Ranajit Chandra Das said, "I spent some time learning how to make sweets at Panchbibi's Kalicharan and Komol Mohanta's factory and then began making kadma, sugary shapes and batasha at home. Then others took this up too."

From Haripur all over

The variety of these local traditional sweets of Haripur are sold at the wholesale Mokam Raja Bazar and Fateh Ali Bazar in Bogura and from there these go to fairs all over the country. The main fairs where these sweets are sold are Ramna's Baishakhi Mela, the mela at Azimpur, the Nuraillapur Shanyal Fakir mela in Dohar, the Rother Mela in Dhamrai, Jabbar Mela in Laldighi, Chattogram, Lalon Mela in Kushtia, Jashore's Modhu Mela, Faridpur's Palli Kabi Jasimuddin Mela, Satkhira's Gorpukur Mela, Barishal's Banapirpara Shurjomoni Mela, Thakugaon's Ruhiya Mela, Dinajpur's Charkai Mela, Ambari Mela and Gopalpur Chowdhury Mela, Joypurhat's Gopinathpur Mela, Bogura's Poradaho, Gangnagar, Dariyal Mela and more. Just as traders come and take the sweets to sell at these fairs, the sweet businessmen and sweet makers from Haripur also go to these fairs to sell their ware.

A day at Haripur

During the visit to Haripur on Monday, in the morning this correspondent first spoke to the elderly sweet maker Bhabendranath Das. He told Prothom Alo, all year round there is business, but business booms during the Baishakh New Year festival. Another maker Don Chandra Das said due to corona, there were no fairs or Baishakhi festivals for two years and so many had moved away from this work and began to work as rickshaw and van pullers or as day labourers.

Sweet maker Tapan Chandra Das said that it was festival season from the Bangla month Falgun to Jaishtha. But sweets were at peak demand in Baishakh. Several of the workers said that every day the Haripur factories churn out around two tons of sweets on average.

Raw materials prices cut into profits

Owners and workers of the sweet factories said compared to pre-pandemic times, the prices of sugar, flour, palm oil and molasses has gone up by one and a half to two times. And demands have dropped too. At the Haripur mithai palli, sugar 'kadma', sugar elephant and horse shapes and batasha are sold wholesale for Tk 120 per kg, nimki Tk 130 per kg, moori Tk 80, murki Tk 120, khagrai Tk 80 and sugar jilapi Tk 80. Before coronavirus, kadma and shapes were sold for Tk 75 per kg, batasha and moori Tk 70, murki and nimki Tk 75, khagrai Tk 65 and sugar jilapi Tk 60 per kg.

Sujan Chandra Das, a sweet maker of this village, said before corona a 50kg sack of sugar cost Tk 2,600. That was now Tk 3,800. An 86kg drum of palm oil was Tk 11,000 and now cost Tk 29,000. Molasses worth Tk 50 now cost Tk 86. The price of flour had almost doubled too. But the prices of sweets hadn't increased that much.

Sweet maker Moloy Chandra Das said, in the Chaitra Sangranti (the eve of Pahela Baishakh) celebrations, sales were usually about Tk 1 million (Tk 10 lakh) during the month-long fair, but this time sales were only Tk 150,000. Sweets were also sold less this time at the Baruni Mela and Bogura's Matidali Tuntuni Mela.

*This piece originally appeared in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir