SRINAGAR: For more than four decades Ghulam Muhammd Bhat of Srinagar’s Chattabal has kept alive the tradition of making and selling cotton-candy in the old city, but he may be the last of his kind.
Unmarried, elderly, and with a limited power of speech, he is nevertheless able to communicate excellently with children, who form the bulk of his clientele. They eagerly await his arrival in the narrow lanes of the old city which is announced with the ringing of a brass bell.
Bhat’s home-made sugary pinkish delicacies are prepared fresh every day at his living room-cum-manufacturing site. His family members say that he derives great pleasure in his work and walks several kilometers daily to reach his beloved customers.
Bhat’s nephew Muhammad Ishaq, with whom he shares a house, told Kashmir Reader that his uncle is probably the lone person left in the city who still makes the stuff locally, and sells it in the traditional cubical glass-fitted box during the day.
Ishaq said that Bhat got interested in making cotton candy at an early age and learnt the craft from a person who operated in the Chattabal vicinity.
“The candy was in great demand then and both my uncle and his master used to sell it across the city,” Ishaq said.
Bhat did not marry, his family members said. He once declined a government job as a gardener, which was offered to him by an official who lived in the nearby police housing colony.
“I never met a man who cared so much about his product,” said Ishaq.
Welcoming us in his room that is filled with assortments of daily-use items, Bhat makes us understand the process of making cotton candy. He first points towards sugar, the main ingredient of the product, and then at the traces of colour that are poured in a slot which is set in the middle of a spinning drum, rotated by a hand-driven paddle.
A sprit lamp at the base of the slot melts the sugar, the outward spin generating hundreds of thin strands through small openings that, once collected, form the fluffy candy.
The process seems simple for Bhat, who collects each ball and puts it separately in his box.
Once the box is half full, he stops, then gestures that the stuff is enough for the day.
His nephew says that in winters the sales are low, but his uncle manages to sell the whole of the produce by the afternoon.
Even with no local competition, Bhat’s earnings are often as meagre as Rs 60 per day, but he is happy. He sells a cotton candy piece for Rs 2.
Asked about the loss he suffers due to curfews or shutdowns, his family members said that he manages to sell his candy during curfews as well.
Ishaq said that the manufacturing hubs of different traditional sweets within old-city areas were Aali Kadal and Habba Kadal, but they faded over time. “My uncle may also meet the same fate,” he said.
“Some of the non-locals sell a similar stuff, but no new learner has ever approached my uncle to learn this craft,” Ishaq said.