Aromas of the Mughal era wafted through this second-floor kitchen near Fountain Chowk in Chandni Chowk for over two hundred years. Three days after shutting it down, Sushant Jain, the owner of Old Delhi's landmark Ghantewala sweet shop, wished someone would come and carry forward the piece of heritage he inherited from his ancestors.
"I know I can't do it. This system has defeated me. I had to wind up Ghantewala. It was heartbreaking for my family. We cried the whole day. If anyone wants to take the franchise of Ghantewala, I am open to the idea," said 39-year-old Jain, the seventh generation descendant of Lala Sukh Ram - the original ghantewala who started selling sweets in Shahjahanbad in 1790.
Jain was the last man standing in the family trade. The business split several times but the name and the legend of Ghantewala remained unharmed. "Our shop was sealed in 2000. I have been going to court hearings twice a month since then. It's been 15 years. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee wants us to move our workshop from our ancestral house to elsewhere. I don't have the financial resources or the strength to do it," Jain said even as his wife, Sonia Jain, fought back tears and remembered how her friends would often tell her to pack sweets and bring them to Greater Kailash where the couple now lives.
Their habsi halwa, parwal/tinde ki mithai was rare and sought after. The cooks who made them had also been with the family for generations.
"I am surprised by the love people have been showing for Ghantewala since we folded up. But the authorities showed no concern to conserve this heritage. I was asked to follow the norms or face action that included a six-month jail term. I was afraid," Jain said even as his workers strolled around, unfamiliar with the new routine. The DPCC listed their workshop as a polluting unit, which could not be allowed to run from their ancestral house.
Jain's 90-year-old grandmother still lives on the first floor. "She tells us how Indira Gandhi had once eaten here in this house. Rajiv Gandhi had made a visit after he got married. We were not running Ghantewala to make money. It was a name we had to carry forward. The sales had dwindled but we could get by," said Jain, who graduated from Shri Ram College of Commerce in 1996 and later decided to join the family business managed by his mother and elder brother.
The brothers were told how royal elephants came down to the street with bells around their neck during Shah Alam's rule. They would not pass by until they were fed sweets. That's how their business got a name. Jain's brother closed down his share of the business in 2003.
They have stopped selling even online for now. "We decided to end it on a good note than ending up flouting norms or facing action for it. But there are others like us in Chandni Chowk who have been around for over a century. The authorities should work to protect them," said Sonia