Tuesday 29 January 2013

A sweet named after a Viceroy's wife

He was the last Governor-General of India and also the first Viceroy. It was during his time that the first war of Indian Independence broke out.
Though the war was put down brutally, he was seen as a man who was on a mission to heal the wounds. Even if he handed over exemplary punishment to those involved in the war, he tried not be revengeful. He managed to restore law and order and introduced several administrative reforms. This earned him the sobriquet “Clemency”.
His wife, the first lady, was passionately in love with India. She not only painted but also wrote a series of detailed letters to Queen Victoria about the life and times in the age. The letters were so comprehensive that the Queen appreciated her. However, her husband, the Viceroy of India, rarely wrote to the Queen and even if he did they were short, brief and to the point.
They were the Cannings. The husband, Lord Charles James Canning, was the last Governor-Genera and the first Viceroy of India. His wife, was Charlotte Canning, who was once in the court of  Queen Victoria.          
Canning was the Governor General of India from 1856 - 1862 and the first Viceroy in India from November 1, 1858. Born on 14 December 1812, he was the third son of the famous statesman George Canning.
An year after he took over as Governor-General of India, he had to face the most daunting task of the period. The war of Indian Independence broke out in 1857. It was overcome and Lord Canning by  the Parliamentary Act of 1858 the rule of the East India Company ended and Britain formally took over India as one of its province. Canning was made the Viceroy.
Though Canning punished all those involved in the war, he was found to be liberal and not vengeful. This earned him the admiration of the people and he was called Clemency Canning.
The Cannings were stationed n Calcutta and they had a retreat  at Barrackpore, which is today one of the suburbs of  Kolkata.
 The Cannings mixed well with the Indians and locals. Lady Canning in particular was found of  Indian dishes, particular Bengali sweets. Her all-time favourite was the Pantua, which she regularly ate and also served to the many guests who visited the house of the Governor-General in Kolkata (now it is the Raj Bhavan. This building was commissioned by Lord Robert Clive).
Lady Canning was so fond of the Bengali sweet that a well-known local confectioner local confection in Calcutta, called Bhim Nag prepared special types of Pantua and called them as Ledikeni.
Ledikeni is a corruption of the English name Lady Canning,
Today, apart from Rosagollas and other sweets, Ledikeni is also a popular Bengali dish.
It is a conventional Bengali, Bangladeshi and eastern Indian dish prepared of deep-fried sweet balls  made from semolina, milk, ghee, khova and sugar syrup.
Of course there are many versions of Pantua and we do not exactly know what Lady Canning liked. All we know is that Bhim Nag prepared her favourite dish and even named it after her.
The story goes that Bhim Nag prepared the dish on the birthday of Lady Canning and dedicated the sweet to her. Whatever be the veracity of the story, one thing is for sure. Ledikeni is one of the most mouthwatering sweets of  Bengal and Bangladesh and if you want the ones prepared by Bhim Nag head for Kolkata.
Kolkata is well connected by both road and rail networks. It has an airport too but Dum Dum airport is far away from Kolkata. Now, the metro makes it easier for you to alight at Dum Dum, take a cab to the Dum Dum metro and get into the hustle and bustle of Kolkata.
By the way, Lady Canning contacted malaria and died in the arms of her husband in her house, rather mansion, in Kolkata in 1861. She was buried in Kolkata, the city that she felt was a lonely one for her. Her tomb can still be seen in Barrackpore, which she always preferred over Kolkata.
Her husband, Canning, was made an Earl and he returned to England an exhausted man. He died in 1862 and is buried at Westminster Abbey in London.   
Canning may have been forgotten. But Ladikeni is not. Though almost 150 have passed after Charlotte’s death, her names survives in a sweetened form.

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