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Sweet sensation

People jostle for space at the sweet shops in the city with Deepavali fast approaching

Mysore Pa, Jilebi, rassogulla...the sweet shops are stocking their counters and perfecting their recipes

YOU WILL probably have to push. And maybe trampoline off a couple of toes too. If you stick out your elbows aggressively and scream shrilly, that might help. Provided you're heard above the din, that is. It's Deepavali, after all. The festival of light. And sound. And lots and lots of sweets.

Here's the bad news. Especially if you've been sitting at home like a ladoo and spooning in the cashew nut halwa all these days: You might not even make it as far as the mysore pak. For, it's a jungle out there.

Saunter in to pick up your yearly dose of kaju katli, and you will first be assaulted by old men with big, soggy umbrellas in one hand and dangerously swishing mugs of badam milk in the other. At the glass counters, hefty men and women jostle for space as they point out their favourite sweets to politely harried salespeople. And even if you decide to crouch so you can stick your nose between errant elbows to take a good look at the sweets, you are likely to come into contact with big grins and sticky fingers as small mobs of children alternate between pointing out their favourite pedas and wiping their ghee soaked fingers on you.

Kaju katli scores

No wonder the shop owners are practically chuckling in ghee. Sorry, glee. "We sell four times more during the festival time than the rest of the year," says Mukesh K. Patel, joint managing director, Shree Mithai, one of Chennai's most popular sweet shops. The Shree Mithai counters are ablaze with colour, from bright yellow and pink rassogullas to flamboyant pedas shaped like watermelons. And they've really stocked up on the kaju katli, rich milk sweets made of cashew nut. "My kids love their kaju katlis," says Mahima, who buys kilos of the sweet every year to hand out to friends and neighbours. "It's thick, fudgy and delicious."

At Sri Krishna Sweets, famous for its melt-in-the-mouth Mysore Pa, M. Murali, the chain's friendly owner chuckles, "You can't separate me from my Mysore Pa, I melt into it!" He adds, "I'm blessed. Our sweets are used to celebrate happiness, so our products are there at every celebration, whether it's a ear piercing, a wedding or Deepavali." The chain, which specialises in big smiles and affectionate service, showcases about 125 different sweets — most of them recipes that have been worked on over the years. "Sweets are thousands of years old. Even Ganesha had ladoos in his hand. We don't invent any sweets - just improve them."

They also furiously innovate: their halwa varieties are mind-boggling — there are 24 varieties, including pepper, ginger, coffee, black rice and fig. Manager of the Chennai stores, Kalyanaraman, says people buy between three and a hundred kilos of sweets from them during Deepavali. And once they're done, they can revive themselves at the Shree Krishna café, redolent with the scent of their masala and pudina polis, spicy and sizzling with ghee.

Preservative free

It takes a while to locate the sweets at Adyar's popular Grand Sweets and Snacks, famous for its athirasam and ladoos, because of the milling crowds — all of whom seem to be steadily eating their way through the store's stock.

"They're the best sweets in the whole world," swears one young man determinedly wading through a pile of ivory pedas. "We take a restricted number of orders," says Mahesh, the store's low-profile proprietor quietly, as he keeps an eye on the organised chaos around him.

He says there is a reason why their customers keep coming back. "We don't use colour, or preservatives. And we never reuse the oil." But don't discount the service. Not only are their harried salespeople unfailingly polite, but they also hand out generous helpings of `puliodharai' in the evenings to keep people occupied while they wait for their sweets to be packed and billed.

Meanwhile, across the city, counters are being stocked and recipes being perfected, since practically everyone has their favourite list of sweet shops and their specialities. Shopkeepers, flexing their muscles and waiting for the flood, say the big "Deepavali rush" begins just a couple of days before D-day.

Apparently, the madness has just begun.


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