Let’s be under no illusion. We are never going to win the Rasagola war. GI certification be damned. Evidence from many centuries back be damned too. The ownership of Rasagola slipped out of our hands a long time ago. Winning the GI tag, if ever we win, would count for zilch. All over the world it would remain a Bengali sweet item even without an official stamp of approval.
The Odisha government may continue the charade of a fight, introducing textural nuances and ancient proof to the debate, but it would be for the public consumption only. Elsewhere, the perception is already set in stone. Soft or spongy, round or any other shape, white or orange, chewy or not, in public perception outside Odisha, Rasagola is Bengali. Public perception is what finally matters.
The Geographical Identification Registry did a balancing act earlier by issuing certification for both versions of the sweet–Bengali and Odia– in 2017 and 2019 respectively. The matter should have ended there. But for some reason we stretched it a bit more. It can only be termed as an exercise in futility. Bengal stays miles ahead in the branding game.
Ask about Odisha Rasagola anywhere outside the state, you are likely to invite blank stares or even questions on its actual existence. That, in fact, goes for all Odia sweets. Forget the GI tag, have we done enough to popularise them? Rasagola Diwas was started with much fanfare to assert our claim over the sweet. Has it been backed up with urgent effort to spread awareness about it outside the state? The answer, sadly, is no. We are simply not doing enough to up our branding game. Without it everything comes to naught.
All the noise about an official recognition is pointless unless we strive to provide recall value to our food. The simple solution to it would be government-backed Odia food stalls across the country or active support to entrepreneurs keen on setting up businesses around our food. Odias form a good chunk of the population in metros and other urban centres. It is a readymade client base which can be leveraged by the entrepreneurs. The more outlets, the better. There’s nothing called excess in the branding game.
‘Odisha Rasagola’ can be an interesting start. We can juxtapose it with Bengali Rosogolla to score an advertising point. It would stir curiosity among among sweet lovers and compel them to taste the difference. From there it would be easy to find new converts.
If Rasagola is a tough proposition given the competition, we can shift focus on our other sweets, including the iconic Chhenapoda, Rasabali, Chhenajhilli among others. The government should spare energy on creating brand identity for all of them. Like Bengali sweet stalls Odia stalls should be a potential destination for those shopping for or planning to gorge on sweet dishes.
Are we game for it? Winning a legal battle for a geographical tag means nothing, besides pampering delicate egos. We have lost this round on technical grounds. This might change latter. Our real challenge lies elsewhere. We must acknowledge it.