Sunday, June 22, 2008

Watch Mittai… Panju Mittai… Soan Papdi…

…It happens only in India
By Sandhya Ramachandran

('It happens only in India' is a series of articles about endangered/extinct/existing elements of our tradition, things that are so unique to us and about a slice of everyday life in India. Be it the vibhuthi or the veshti, the madi-aachaaram or the Karva Chauth, the watch mittais or the Kodukka Puli- these are tales about everyday Indian objects/ occurrences/ practices the author is slowly gathering from her parents, grandparents and friends. Reason- 'It happens only in India')

"Long ago, there used to wander on the streets, sellers with a long stick, with sweet rolled on it. A twist here and a twirl later, for 5 paisa, one could get a duck, parrot, cat or any other shaped sweet-watch on your wrist! And whatever extra bit was left was lovingly stuck to your cheek by the sweet-wallah. The 'watch-mittai' was just sugar with added colours but it used to be such a rage when I was a kid," concludes my mother in a nostalgic tone.

Gone are the days of this innovative sweet. No one even knew what it was, until director Shankar showed it in his film Mudhalvan, making me break into the question of 'What is a watch-mittai?'

In the age of Ferrero Rochers and Dairy Milk, no child has ever sunk its teeth into a watch mittai! The simple pleasure of having a small watch-like sweet on your wrist and eating it off in glee has been absolutely replaced by foil-wrapped chocolates in swanky covers and myriad colours!

If the watch mittai has almost become extinct, leaving one or two rare existences, the panju-mittai has somehow held its fort. In bright yellow and shocking pink, these sweets are sold in the beaches, exhibitions and sometimes, there are panju-mittai making machines installed in weddings!

Then, the sugar-boiled mittais were in. Today, one still gets them at some shops (like the Ambika Appalam Depot chain of stores) in bright orange, lemon yellow and strawberry pink. The chooda mittais were the peppermints- resembling the camphor in colour and shape. Today, you get the authentic chooda mittais in packets of Rs.5. These mittais were bought from the roadside potti kadais. And then Nutrine chocolates arrived to rewrite things!

The jaggery-coconut cousin of the kadalaimittai- the kamarkattu has also somehow lived strong over the ages, and this iron-rich sweet is available in small and big stores in packets.
If there is one thing that still is sold in its nice-old way, it would be the soan papdi! We still see the soan papdi-wallah pushing his petromax lamp with a huge glass jar filled with the wispy soan padi- enticing in smell, melt-in-your-mouth taste and oh-so-sweet! In little newspaper cones, he still gives out soan from Rs.5 onwards. And in case these slightly-smoky tasting soan papdi are beneath your hygiene standards, there always is the modern packed version available in sweetmeat shops and stores.

From 5ps to today's costlier versions, all these roadside sweet items are getting newer clothing in factories and fancy marketing garbs. Pollution and hygiene were both not of any concern in the past and the mittais used to sell like hot property, being every kid's after- school snack!
Modern days have lesser cleanliness, more buzz and money to afford a better version of these delectables. Whether watch-mittai gets a new snazzy avatar, the kamarkattu replaces M&M's or the Panju mittai remains in its jataks pink colours, one sure does hope that these lip-smacking delicacies don't disappear from the face of the country!


Ceruleus said...

Well, I have eaten in childhood that thing you mention that your mom used to eat. And son-papdi too have eaten much! We (I and you) grew up in the nineties when the economic order in India began to change from socialism to capitalism which is why we are the generation to eat those kinda things in childhood sold off at 1 rupee and grow up to be bloggers and prospective engineers/architects one day : )

call me said...

Well,if u wanna know more about watch mittais, kamarkattus and javvu mittais, well, ask me.. :-)
As i read through d article nostalgically, i sincerly hoped these extinct stuffs burst into life somehow someday, like the dinosaurs in the jurassic park.. i wanna go back in time.. Summon H G Wells :-)