Sarada Charan Das
Sarada Charan Das (1906-1992) was an Indian Bengali polymath, scientist, confectioner, entrepreneur and businessman. He was the youngest son and successor of Krishna Chandra Das (K.C. Das) and the grandson of the legendary Bengali confectioner Nobin Chandra Das (the inventor of the Rossogolla and widely known as the Columbus of Rossogolla ). Born in the year 1906 (in Bagbazaar, Kolkata, India), he established the first confectionery company in India, named K.C. Das Private Limited, in 1946. Sarada Charan had varied talents and interests,ranging from sports at the international level (being a member of the official Indian weight-lifting delegation at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956) to Bengali art and culture. He is considered as the founding father of K.C. Das Private Limited and a major innovator and pioneer of the Bengali sweetmeat industry due to his contributions towards revamping, modernizing and scientifically standardizing the confectionery industry.
Birth & Early Life
Sarada Charan was born in 1906 to the noted confectioner family of the Das'es of Bagbazar as the youngest son of Krishna Chandra Das (K.C. Das), in Kolkata, India. At the age of eighteen, Sarada Charan married Annapurna Devi (1912-1996) the twelve-year-old daughter of Dr. Mahendranath Indra, a reputed Civil Surgeon. Annapurna became the driving force behind her husband, and over the years grew to become the anchor of her large and extended family. Noted for the largeness of her heart and her hospitality and kindness, she left a deep impression on all who came in contact with her. Her interactions with the wide circle of her family, friends, husband’s friends and acquaintances were marked with genuine love and care, and it was generally acknowledged that the real moving spirit of the Das household was Annapurna.
Being of an intellectual bent of mind, in his early twenties, after completing a degree from Vidyasagar College, Sarada Charan initially pursued a career in scientific research under physicist and Nobel Laureate Sir C.V. Raman at the Rajabazar Science College, between 1926 and 1930. However, the expectations of his business family and the social customs of his times were not in favour of Sarada Charan's scientific ambitions. His father Krishna Chandra strongly opposed the idea of his son accepting any form of employment beyond the parameters of their prestigious family business. In order to engage and induct his youngest and apparently most talented son into the confectionery business, Krishna Chandra Das started a brand new venture at Jorasako in 1930 appointing Sarada Charan at the helm of affairs. This shop was christened after Krishna Chandra Das and later modified by Sarada Charan to its now universally recognised modern form “K.C. Das”. This is where father and son amalgamated their ideas to come up with the canned form of their family's signature dish Rossogolla in 1930; which was also the first canned sweet manufactured in India.
Contribution to Bengali Confectionery
After the early death of Krishna Chandra (K.C. Das) in 1934, Sarada Charan quickly expanded his father’s business beyond the Jorasanko shop. He added a number of new outlets in Kolkata, beginning with the shop at Esplanade East under his father’s name in 1935. This was the first time that the shop’s name was shortened to the crisper ‘K.C. Das’ from the original Krishna Chandra Das. This shop broke new ground in the traditional Bengali confectionery business in many ways.He introduced uniformed employees and western-style table service to seated customers. His passion for innovation took him to Japan in 1938, from where he brought back fine porcelain crockery for use in his shop, as well as Japanese handicrafts to be distributed to his customers as gifts.
Sarada Charan even revolutionized the way traditional Bengali sweets were packed, replacing the customary "sal" leaf packing with butter-paper lined white cardboard cake boxes in the manner of European confectioners. The family tradition of innovation in new sweets continued unbroken with Sarada Charan creating the first sweets for diabetics and the “Amrita Kumbha Sondesh”, an exciting departure from all extant conventions of shape and taste. He also introduced the “Sondesh Cake” and “Ice-cream Sondesh” in order to compete with western confectionery products and dairy desserts.
Sarada Charan’s greatest contribution, however, was not just to the final products of confectionery but to the cooking process itself. He conceived, designed and built a system to use steam generated from a boiler passed through steam-jacketed pans to cook traditional Indian sweetmeats,replacing the coal/wood burning stoves and conventional “kadais”.
Sarada Charan was a man of varied interests and passions. He became the chief patron of the Bagbazar United Club (established in 1924) and Bagbazar Gymnasium Club (established in 1910), and promoted their activities for many years. From organizing endurance swimming contests in the Ganga to being a member of the official Indian weight-lifting delegation at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, he was actively involved for several decades in a wide range of sports and events. He had been the President of the prestigious Bagbazaar Sarbojanin Durgotsab and Exhibition Committee between 1961 and 1965. Sarada Charan was also the Founder Secretary of the Bagbazaar Sarbajonin Durgotsab Trust and thereafter became its President. He was also a member of the Indian Science Congress.
Patronizing Art and culture
Sarada Charan was connected closely with the rise and flourishing of the Bengal School in the visual arts, being one of the most significant sponsors and patron of artists such as Jamini Roy, Shuvo Thakur and Gopal Ghosh. Jamini Roy's greatest gift of gratitute to his dear friend and benefactor Sarada Charan was his magnum opus – the “Ramayana”. Spread across seventeen canvases, Jamini Roy’s “Ramayana” is on display today at the Das residence “Rossogolla Bhavan” in Kolkata. The Das residence today harbors the largest private collection of Jamini Roy paintings with 25 of the master’s originals.
Performing arts and artistes also drew his attention and interest, as many maestros of Hindusthani classical music and dance were invited to perform at his home. From Shanta Rao and Sitara Devi to Pandit Shamta Prasad, Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury of Gauripur and Ustad Dabir Khan, it was rare to find an artiste of stature in those decades who had not graced a soiree at the Das household. This galaxy of reputed musicians also included Anath Nath Basu, Dhirendra Chandra Mitra, Uday Bhushan Bhattacharya, Ata Hosein Khan and Shailaja Ranjan Majumdar, all of whom also taught music to the children of the Das household. Sarada Charan’s love for the arts ensured that each of his children was schooled formally in a performing art. His varied interests also helped to nurture his friendship with an illustrious circle drawn from every sphere of intellectual and cultural activity in India in those days. Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, the legendary physician-Chief Minister of West Bengal, was their family physician from the time of his grandmother,Khirodmoni Devi,(the grand-daughter of the legendary confectioner and poet Bhola Maira) and he held the family in great affection. Sarada Charan counted among his close friends the biologist J.B.S. Haldane and his wife, Bengali film stars Kanan Devi and Chhaya Devi, the statistician P.C. Mahalanobis, the revolutionary Lokenath Bal, Tagore disciple Amal Home, the scholars Nirmal Bose and Suniti Chattopadhyay, and many others. Completing this galaxy of luminaries were the Shankar family members: the internationally famous dancers Uday Shankar and Amala Shankar, the sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar and their next generation - Ananda Shankar and Mamata Shankar, who were also related by marriage to Sarada Charan’s fourth son Dhirendranath Das. Apart from them were Dr. Panchanan Chattopadhyay, Dr. R. Ahmed, Dr. Bankim Mukhopadhyay, and the then leaders of Bengal Dhiren Mukhopadhyay, Atulya Ghosh and Prafulla Sen. The critical link between the medical luminaries and the Dases, was the brother of Annapurna, Dr. Major Hemanta Kumar Indra who retired as the Principal of R. G. Kar Medical College, Kolkata and was also the Deputy Director of Health Services, Government of West Bengal.
Sarada Charan’s bent of mind was highly scientific. Oriented towards innovations and discoveries, he spent a lot of his energies on new projects. In the early 1940s he purchased a small Austin car, and tried to run it on a fuel other than petrol. Though he was way ahead of his time in terms of such innovative ideas, hecould not make much headway. In 1948, both Sarada Charan and his wife went to Europe for one and a half years. They lived in London for a short while, and in Switzerland where they stayed close to a year. While in Switzerland he collaborated with the Swiss Company ‘Rebella’ and tried to start a whey drink in India, which did not succeed.
In the 1950s, he started a company called ‘Sunshade’ which produced awnings. Bata and Burma Shell were among its regular clientele. This company was managed by a friend of his and his third son. After the death of his friend the production trickled down and the venture had to be abandoned. Around the same time, Sarada Charan also tried to invent a mechanized tabla which could be tuned by turning knobs, instead of manually. Though all these projects were left incomplete, they illustrate the inventive and creative way in which his mind worked continually.
Establishment of K.C.Das Grandsons
In 1955, Sarada Charan had a major disagreement with his second son Debendra Nath, leading to a permanent estrangement within the family. Debendra Nath left his ancestral home and family business and went on to establish an independent entity, K.C. Das Grandsons Private Limited, in 1956.
Expansion of K.C.Das to South India
To combat acute scarcity of milk, the West Bengal government introduced a Milk Trade Control Order in 1965.This legislation severely curtailed the supply of milk to confectioners and resulted in a major negative impact on the business of Bengali confectioners. The K.C. Das company had to scale down operations drastically and barring the Esplanade establishment which sold savouries along with sweets, all the other K.C.Das shops were shut down, along with the historical Nobin Chandra Das establishment. West Bengal’s growing energy crisis and resultant shortage of electricity added to the organization’s problems.
It was in this context that the Sarada Charan started to explore alternative markets for his company.In 1972, Sarada Charan set up a factory and a shop in Bangalore. It has since then grown into a culinary landmark of the city, with the “Rossogolla” naturally the most popular of its products.
Scientific research and methodology
Sarada Charan Das also gave a research and development perspective to the company’s activities. In 1946, he set up a fully equipped laboratory, the Indian Scientific Industries, at Chitpur Road in Kolkata. Extensive research work there involved the bacterial culture required for “dahi” (curds). It also worked on the nutritional value of whey, and ways to package and market it as a soft drink. Commercialization of lactose and lactic acid from whey was another project. This laboratory also did pioneering work on making sweetmeats from soybean milk in the 1960s, but these could not be commercially produced or beneficially sustained in economic terms.
Death and Legacy
Sarada Charan died at the age of 86, in 1992. His legacy continues to influence not only his own company but also the Bengali confectionery industry at large. On the occasion of Sarada Charan’s birth centenary in 2006 and the Platinum Jubliee of the “K.C. Das” confectionery, the company formally outlined its fourfold mission statement:
(1) Focus on upholding the tradition and heritage of Bengali Sweets on the global platform and enhancing the global consumer’s awareness of traditional sweets and savories of India.
(2) Standardizing the ingredient mix of indigenous sweetmeats and snack foods and upgrading and automating the production.
(3) Focus on adopting suitable methods to control and standardize quality at every stage of the confectionery life-cycle, from raw-material procurement to the packaging of the product, thereby significantly increase the shelf-life of indigenous sweets and savories produced by mechanized processes.
(4) To establish a worldwide vibrant market for Indian sweets and snacks.
Sarada Charan and Annapurna Devi had seven children, Rabindra Nath Das (1927-2000), Debendra Nath Das (1930-2010), Narendra Nath Das (1932-1993), Dhirendra Nath Das (1934–present ), Birendranath Das (1935–present), Monika Das (1937-1940) and Manjulika Das (1939-2012)