Chhana is one of the important intermediate milk base that is used to prepare sweets. It is prepared through systematic curdling of milk and separation of whey water. Unlike khoa (desiccated milk) or kheer (thickened milk) it has a short shelf life and hence the sellers face a challenge not only to prepare the chhana but also to transport it to shops. The production cycle of sweet shops in West Bengal depend on chhana supply and it is not a mere coincidence that most shops prepare chhana-based sweets in the evening or late night as chhana supplies trickle in by late afternoon. Most Sealdah and Howrah bound local trains ferry the chhana suppliers and their wares from neighbouring places such Krishnanagar, Burdwan and Dankuni. In Kolkata, there is a designated market called Chhanapatti where stacks of chhana, khoa, paneer are sold in volumes. The chhana is wrapped in a white muslin cloth and stacked in wicker baskets. The soft texture of the cloth allows for the excess water to be drained and the shape and layering of the wicker baskets also allow for automatic draining of excess whey water. The draining of excess water is extremely important for the weight against which the price would be quoted and the quality of the chhana would be judged in a sweet shop. The price of chhana varies depending on the price of the milk. Chhana markets are an important part of the supply chain of the sweet industry. Industry insiders recall with fondness how they rely on chhana suppliers and in some cases this relationship is across generations.
The photo-essay by Sanjeet Chowdhury takes us through the journey of the chhana pattis across two market places in Kolkata (ChhatubabuLatubabur Bazaar and College Street Market)