More than 500 years ago, Rao Bika, second prince of Rao Joda, the Jodhpur king, left home with a small band of followers to set up his own empire in the desert region of Rajasthan. The place he chose for his new kingdom belonged to a local chief, Nehra, who gave his consent to the prince on condition that the new palace being built on his land should bear his name in perpetuity. Rao Bika joined the name of Ner to his name and the new kingdom was named Bikaner.
Inspired by Rao Bika, Shiv Ratan Agarwal, the second grandson of the king of ethnic snacks, Ganga Bishen Agarwal and founder of Haldiram, wanted to follow Rao Bika’s footsteps. Breaking away from his family business he chose to carve out his own food business. His brothers decided to set up businesses in New Delhi and West Bengal. All under the brand name of Haldiram. Panna Babuji, as Shiv Ratan is fondly called,built his empire from Bikaner.
At that time and this is true even today, Bikaner had several small mom and pop stores producing Bikaneri bhujia. One can still visit a bazaar called Bhujia Bazaar. And people both in Bikaner city and the surrounding areas often come to this place to relish freshly fried snacks along with sweets like jalebi, rasogulla, and kachoris. The family had for years been making bhujia sev, one of the savouries of Rajasthan made from ‘moth’ dal, a lentil grown extensively in Rajasthan, Gujarat and parts of Pakistan. There were several producers of this ethnic food in Bikaner but those from the house of Haldiram were patronised even by royalty in the early half of the 20th century. The difference was in the mixing of the condiments and the chickpea flour mixed with ‘moth’. Unlike others across India who make bhujia from chickpea flour, bhujia from Rajasthan even has a ‘geographic indication’ to differentiate it from lookalike bhujias made elsewhere
Haldiram, at that time, was favoured as it had royal patrons since its inception in 1937. Shiv Ratan, who operated from a small shop helping his father (Ganga Bishen’s son) since the age of 14, formed a partnership firm, Shivdeep (Deepak being his son), which commenced operations in 1987. Early on, Agarwal decided that if he had to make a mark in the cluttered marketplace, it was necessary to have machines which could quickly scale up the production of bhujias and also maintain a consistent quality. Packaging was essential to ensure a longer shelf life as compared to the paper and plastic bags used extensively during that period. Pouch packing, now very popular, was introduced by Shiv Ratan. Considerable time was spent in customising machines for which he even took a trip to Australia to determine how the machines could be adapted for making bhujias. Besides the production of bhujias it was also necessary to set up packaging lines to ensure quality and hygienic packing. “We were the first in Bikaner to have packaging machines,” the founder says proudly, reminiscing about his early days. Currently the company has 2,000 employees.continue reading at..
(As published in Business India August 24- September 6, 2020 )