Remembering India’s sweet-less summers

Remembering India’s sweet-less summers

Summer of 1965 was not the best time to attend a wedding in Delhi. That year, the city’s administration placed restrictions on serving dairy sweets to guests. A host could not serve sweets made of “khoya, chhaina, rabri and khurchan to more than 25 persons at a time at social functions.”

Chhaina is cottage cheese but the other three are simply milk reduced to different degrees of viscosity by boiling. Rabri is fluid, khoya is firm while khurchan is flaky. Khurchan literally means something scraped off.

Sweetened rabri and khurchan are treats by themselves but all four are also used as a base for numberless sweets.

Why did Delhi Administration pass such a spoilsport order? 

Because there was a dire shortage of milk. Not just in Delhi but across India, and that had been the case for years. The idea of India as a land of milk and honey survived only in mythology. On the ground, we were a milk-starved nation with per capita availability of 46kg per year when the average Kiwi had 270kg and even a Pakistani had 82kg to their share (Food & Agriculture Organization data for 1952–55).

Remembering India’s sweet-less summers

In fact, average milk consumption in India had reduced after Independence because the part of India that went to west Pakistan had significantly higher average milk production than the rest of undivided India.

Remembering India’s sweet-less summers

Immediately after Independence, Government of India had made dairy farming a focus area under its Grow More Food scheme, but suddenly, in 1949, it was removed from the list.

The milk crisis used to deepen every summer when fodder and water were in short supply. And the idea to ban dairy sweets to shore up the availability of liquid milk first came up for discussion a few years later.

In June 1960, National Nutrition Advisory Committee recommended prohibiting the “commercial” manufacture of milk-based sweets, but the state governments opposed it. Consequently, NNAC’s executive committee reviewed the proposal on March 22, 1963 and dropped it.

Next year, minister of state for external affairs Lakshmi Menon made the recommendation again at a speech in Patna, Bihar, and then food and agriculture minister A M Thomas had to assure Parliament on May 7, 1964: “There is no proposal now to ban the use of milk for the manufacture of sweets.”

However, by 1969, the ban on manufacturing milk-based sweets in summer had become an annu