Dhaka, Bangladesh
Sugary friendship

Off the track

Sugary friendship

M Ilyas Khan

The India city of Badaun and the Pakistan city of Mardan are separated by 1,200km of territory, a vicious communal divide and a heavily militarised border. But Mardan’s chief sweet delicacy - the Badauni pedha - still holds the aroma and the taste of a shared past. And this has been made possible by a migrant family of semi-literate farmers who say they went into the pedha business because they “didn’t know anything better to do”. Pedhas are grainy balls of condensed milk, or khoa, mixed with sugar and spices. They are believed to have originated in Varanasi and Mathura and have been used as religious offerings, or prasad, in Hindu temples. While the delicacy spread to various parts of India early on, its advent in northwestern Pakistan dates to 1950 when a couple of villagers from India’s Bareilly district set up a shop in Mardan. The ambience of the shop is not dissimilar to most traditional sweet outlets across India and Pakistan; it is small and untidy, housed on the ground floor of a narrow, ramshackle three-storey building. The factory is located on the first floor. But trading is brisk for a small city like Mardan; a salesman says they sell an average of 200kg of pedhas a day, besides other sweets. Asked to set out his special recipe, Mehmood Ali Khan just smiled. But here’s one way to make it: A hand-painted signboard hangs from the second storey, covering the entire front of the building. Besides the name of the shop - Badauni Pedha House - it carries a portrait of Mehmood Ali Khan, the owner, who is introduced as “Baba-e-Zaiqa”, or the “father of flavour”. But Mr Khan, 78 and now retired, says he is not the original founder of the business. He was just eight years old when India was divided. “When partition happened, two of my seven brothers - the eldest and the one at number four - decided to migrate to Pakistan,” he says. “They said they would assess the situation and make arrangements for the rest of the family to relocate. But they faced problems - they couldn’t find anything they could do for a living. So my elder brother, Ibn-e-Ali Khan, decided to introduce Badauni pedhas in Mardan.” Back then, local consumers were strangers to the taste of a north Indian pedha. Also, Ibn-e-Ali’s pedha was still some years from mimicking the addictive, mildly sweet milky tinge of the Badauni variety. After a year their mother, a widow, started to fret. “She said that the family ought to stay together; that either my two brothers came back to Sirauli (the family’s native village in Bareilly district), or everyone went to Pakistan.”

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