There was a silence in the car, the kind usually reserved for family get-togethers where no one approves of one another. Our driver Rashid though, had launched enthusiastically into the history and geography of the very thing responsible for all that hush — the Agra petha.
Now, it is better to make it clear at the very outset that there are two kinds of people in this world — those who love the Agra petha and those who detest it. My family is in the latter group and I evidently belong to the former. So when I said I will not leave Agra without at least a kilogram of the aforementioned delicacy, I first got aghast looks. Petha?! That sickly-sweet dessert? That shapeless horror fashioned out of gourd! How can you like that? Eww! And then came the stiff, silent acquiescence that did nothing to dent my zeal to bite into one.
So Rashid manoeuvred our car inside the famously narrow gallis of the Agra market in search of the ‘best petha’ in town. It was dusk and the market shops were already winding down. People were few and cows many; in the air, the inevitable smell of the forever small town.
Petha, though, has moved on from its humble roots. Today, Agra’s petha comes in eye-popping varieties — there is the kesar petha, the mithai-pan petha, the dry fruits-studded angoori petha, the flavoursome kewda petha… the list is endless. It is another matter that petha purists like me believe nothing can beat the original, translucent version, its sugar syrup masking the blandness of the ash gourd from which it is prepared while retaining the vegetable’s crunch.