Nothing's better and nothing's worse than celebrating Diwali by gorging on sweets.
With adulteration being the norm, it is advised for the sake of your health to avoid eating the pure chemicals the halwais are dishing out. Hold your taste buds, or hold your tummy, later.
Milk and its thickened byproduct, khoya, which form the essential base of most sweet delights, are likely to first fool you with colours and foils and then turn your festival joy sour. In the health experts' analysis, most halwais in the city are lacing the sweets with starch, urea, caustic soda (used for whitening khoya), synthetic colours and agents, and even insects.
The adulteration is invisible to the naked eye and requires sophisticated kits, not available on the market readily, to be detected. A few days ago, the district health department officials seized 12 quintals of adulterated khoya that would have gone into sweets and then into our stomachs. Highlighted only around Diwali, this indigestible crime goes unchecked the entire year.
The seized khoya was bound for the market in Lohgarh and had been purchased from outside Amritsar for sale in the local sweetshops. "Some of it was made in the outskirts of the city," said civil surgeon Dr Yash Mitra.
Testing in the Chandigarh laboratory takes about 25 days. "Shoppers can identify adulterated khoya by putting a few drops of iodine over. If it turns blue, it is adulterated," he said.
Besides adulteration, both sweet makers and the municipal corporation also ignore the lack of hygiene in preparation. One kitchen inspection will shut most sweet businesses but the general action is soft. "The raids are regular the entire year, and the action is strict," said municipal commissioner DPS Kharbanda.
Busy streets in walled city are synonymous with the festive season. Many of its traditional sweet corners have been here for 50 years and defined the city's taste. This Diwali, however, biscuit and chocolate brands are also the names on people's lips.
The trend of packed gifts notwithstanding, local preparations remain in competition through sweet and salted matthi and desi-ghee feniyan, which are in demand around Karva Chauth (married women's annual day of fast), and through Diwali laddoo and patisa. Because of health concerns, sweets made of khoya are not much in demand this festive season.
"Every year, the authorities check our preparation. We pay due attention to hygiene in making sweets and mention the expiry date on packs," said Shiv, owner of Mahajan Sweets at Bijli Chowk. Raghav Mahajan of Gopal Sweets at Hall Bazar claimed that khoya items were still in demand. "Initially, people liked packed items but their interest has shifted back to sweets," he said.
Many halwai shops and reputed sweet makers have encroached upon streets for the display of items around Diwali and making of makeshift kitchens. Especially at small shops, flies and dust settle over the uncovered sweets.