A Tale Of Two Bakeries
A good part of my growing up years was spent in salivating over the goodies of our friendly neighbourhood bakery, Kamrup Bakery — a veritable Alladin’s den of freshly-baked goodies in Guwahati. Appetizing aromas would gently waft out, lasso unsuspecting passersby and lure them inside the bakery where they would come face to face with a whole lot of temptations such as deliciously soft bread (no brown, multi-grain or other pretenders), cream rolls, jam rolls, boiled cake, sweet biscuits with peanuts embedded in them, salty biscuits with nigella seeds and last but not the least, ‘S’ biscuits (because they were shaped like an ‘S’). The bakery also stocked ‘Happy Birthday’ cakes (with icing so hard that a bite into one could induce slightly shaky milk teeth to get embedded in it.) Classic hits (as far as I was concerned) included two special items. The first one is Egg Patties — each one came with only half an egg smothered with spices and wrapped in a soft and flaky crust. You need to have at least two for the full experience. I mean who has only half an egg. The second one is a spicy packet of wafers (a local brand called Hot Chips). Each turn of the page of a thriller by the likes of Alistair MacLean, Agatha Christie and James Hadley Chase was accompanied with a soul-satisfying fiery crunch.
All these treats would be stacked up or laid out in colourful neat rows. Samples would be distributed liberally to aid the decision making process. Of course, the regulars would just have to step in and before one can say ‘Threptin’ their neat brown-paper packages would be waiting for them at the cashier. Everybody knew everybody. The payment of bills never happened with the clinical efficiency of tapping on a glowing screen. Instead, it happened over gentle conversations about school results, political scandals, ailing relatives and that perennial pothole in front of the bakery.
One fine day, Kamrup Bakery started preparing snacks such as singras (samosas), egg chops (pronounced as ‘sops’), and even chicken/mutton cutlets (minus the stuffy colonial club atmosphere where white-gloved attendants look down upon the non-regulars with practiced disdain). Life became much tastier. And then the inevitable process of casting aside the carefree garb of childhood and donning the capricious cloak of adulthood began. I moved out of home to a place approximately 3,400 km away from Kamrup Bakery. Slowly but surely, the pleasant memories of childhood receded gracefully to that special place where they wait patiently to be revived again. And revive they did when I was roaming around aimlessly in Bara Bazar, Shillong, many years later. The heady aroma of just-out-of-the-oven bread helped me sniff out Mr. Biswas’s modest bakery. A bit bashful (as evident in the picture), Mr. Biswas however had no qualms about lending me an attentive ear as I recounted tales of my favourite bakery. I asked him for a half-kilo biscuit pack. He happily packed a kilo of his best. And vehemently refused my money. We shook hands and I walked back happily. It always feels good to part on a sweet note with a bakery.