Thursday, November 23, 2017
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On Christmas eve, how can one not think of the Christmas cake? The earliest memories that I have of Christmas relate to a forgotten era. That was the time when I was too small to realize the difference between a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim, a Sikh or any other person belonging to other castes or nationalities. All seemed to be the same. They all felt hungry.

They ate, slept, played, danced together. Where then was the difference? No wonder sometimes we think of crooning that song of Hemant Kumar, ‘Bhala thha kitna apna bachpan’. So when Christmas came,it was the cake, the Christmas Cake, which would thrill us. Why did we see it only in December? I once asked an elder. He told me: ‘Because Christmas comes only in December’. My next question was: ‘ Diwali comes in October or November.  But don’t we get laddus round the year ? Don’t we get sewaiyan  round the year? Then why don’t we see this wonderful cake throughout the year?’ It was subsequently clarified that the ingredients used in the Christmas Cake survive better in cold weather.’  There were hardly any frigs then. Ordinary cakes were available round the year. But Christmas cakes were special.

Those were British days. Even Christmas was politicized then. The belief was that Christmas is a festival of Christians. And the British rulers were Christians. So to enjoy a cake was like patronizing foreign goods. But those Indians serving in the Government or in concerns managed by the British did derive the pleasure of enjoying the Christmas cake. I am told that the British Collector would throw a party to his Indian subordinates and they were served dinner and cakes there too. That used to be a prestigious get-together.
In tose days there were only two leading confectioners in Allahabad. Eastman was run by Miss Singh and it stood majestically at the spot where now stands Niranjan. Indians patronized the Eastman. Their cakes were delicious. Her nephew Joe Singh was a trainee pilot at Gwalior where my father was then posted as airlines incharge. Joe used to stay elsewhere but have his meals with us. When we came to Allahabad in 1946, Miss Singh. Overwhelmed at the kindness my elders had shown to Joe, would present us cakes and pastries on Christmas. The taste still lingers. The other bakery was that of M’s Barnetts Hotel. Mrs Barnetts, the English  owner had brought some cake recipes from England which were very popular and lasted till Barnetts wound up in 1984. Barnetts cakes were much in demand among the Europeans and sold till Asansol. Gift packets in hundreds were despatched during World War Two and later also to war front for soldiers. In fact Barnetts had an office in London too.  As I stated earlier, there used to be a long queue of cake purchasers outside the booking window of Barnetts Hotel. People would stand in long queues to reach the counter. If cakes were not popular, how was there so much of rush? I am told the queue was of Indian buyers, mostly those serving in Government or in concerns with British officials. The Indians would buy cakes from Barnetts to present a gift to their British officers. I need hardly add that the British would love to receive a cake prepared by the Barnetts Confectionery as it was run then by an Englishman.
But we had several Indian Christian friends. My next door neighbours were the Dawsons-James, Archie, Rodricks, Teresa, Alma. What lovely cakes their Mama would get baked from Dhunnu at Manmohan crossing. Miss Cecelia Philips’s home was a second home for us as her brother Shelley Philips too had gone for pilot training to Gwalior and we knew him from there.  Then the Mukherjees on Muir Road—Nirmala, Usha (both no more).Their Mama too made excellent cakes. I also can’t forget the cakes at Eric Daniel’s residence. Cakes at Hamid Wesley were also delicious. I cannot forget the cakes we enjoyed at the residence of Mr S.L.Parmar, (my teacher), in Holland Hall. I also had the privilege of enjoying cake at Mrs Vinita Eusebius’s residence in Muirabad. That was during the ‘Jugnu’ days,  And the cakes at Victor Saunders place continue to be delightful. Mrs Lucinda Dhavan and Mrs Helen Verma bake their own cakes. They are superb. The cakes at Bishop Isidore’s party were also a treat to remember.
Today the prices of cakes and pastries, like other delicacies, have shot up. I recall some fifty years ago when Barnetts were the most expensive bakery in town, a one-pound un-iced cake would sell for Rs1. 50paise and the rich fruit cake, the plum cake, the Christmas cake would sell for Rs5 a pound. But those were the days when gold was selling at Rs80 a tola (10 grms)Times change. Things change. Tastes change.  But cakes will always be cakes. You would always love to eat them—and have them too!

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