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The genie rang the bell, slurped away the rabri...

india Updated: Dec 15, 2006 10:38 IST
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Achala Misra visits the quaint and the forgotten places in Lucknow to bring you a series of tales from an era almost but forgotten.

At first glance, it’s just like any other ordinary shop catering to those with a sweet tooth, and that too in a decidedly downmarket area. But few are aware that the famous Ghante-wali shop in Fatehganj ( Aminabad) hides an interesting ‘window’ to the history of the City of Nawabs!

The shop, which specialises only in milk products such as flavoured milk, rabri, malai and curds, derives its name from the shining big brass ‘ghanta’ (bell) which is hung outside the shop every evening when they open the shop. Such is its popularity that all the products are sold out with in a few hours, with customers arriving from all parts of the city to savour the famed rabri.

According to the present proprietor, Shyam Narayan alias Shambhu, the bell belongs to his great grandfather late Munnalal. He set up the shop in 1857, after he was shot in the leg during the Uprising and became lame. He rode to his shop on horseback every evening. The anecdote in the family further goes that at the stroke of midnight everyday, genies came and rang the bell, indicating an order for rabri and malai. Trays of the milk products were silently placed before them and they passed on pieces of coal into the shop owner’s fist. The pieces of coal, legend has it, turned into gold the next morning!

With the passage of time and onslaught of modernity, the supernatural may have shunned the shop, but the bell has been revered by succeeding generations,  with Munnalal’s son late Thakur Prasad and grandson late Lala Gayadin carrying forward the legacy. Shyam Narayan (80) is now the forth generation member of the family, fastidiously hanging on to tradition.

Shyam Narayan says the bell used to be quite heavy but has worn a little thin after being cleaned meticulously for 150 years. In 1948, the year his father died, two Englishmen came to his shop and offered to buy the bell for Rs  500—considered a  whopping amount in the ’40s! Despite much persuasion, he firmly refused, saying it was a family heirloom.

The gleaming brass bell hangs in front of the shop suspended by a brass chain and is mounted by an icon of Lord Hanuman which appears identical on both sides. The bell is dutifully garlanded every evening.

However, it is not merely the legend that lures customers. Both the rabri (Rs 120 per kg) and the malai (Rs 140 per kg) are truly delicious. Small wonder then, that septuagenarian DP Pandey has been a regular at the shop since 1961. So are many others.

So many famous people have been to his shop that the 80-year-old Shyam Narayan cannot even recall the names. What is more, the rabri of this shop, meticulously packed in handis (earthen pots), even finds its way to Mumbai and Kolkata.

Despite all this, Shyam Narayan did not go in for any expansion, nor ever sought to set up a stall at any fiesta, as he said he was too old to take on much.

Unfortunately, his son (45) died two years ago and his grandchildren are all studying.

But the brave old man has no regrets.

”I always use pure ingredients and always sell fresh products, never rancid. I may not have minted money but I have earned much respect”. And of course, to people of his generation, this is what matters most.”

So, the next time you are in Aminabad, wander a little further to taste the blissful rabri and take look at the shining brass bell that was rung by unseen hands during the Nawabi era.