On 1, Turner Road in Dehradun, there is a bakery. It is called Bustan. Sadi, a thirteenth century poet of Shiraz, wrote a book of verses on the lines of Aesop’s Fables, with the same name. In literal Persian, Bustan means a place of smell, and orchard in general usage. In poetics, Bustan symbolises a pleasure garden, or garden of fragrance.
This Turner Road garden of fragrance brings wafts of an aroma long lost, but oft remembered by Oakgrovians.
In 2007, Sumit Khosla (1985 batch) established the MSN group for Oakgrovians. Apart from reconnecting many, it had discussions on sundry OG things. One of them was Jap Cakes; variously spelled as Jhap, Jab, Jaab, Jhab etc. It can’t be said for certain if it was discovered then, but the term Jap or Japanese cakes probably dates back to the time of the Second World War, as Wazy – Anil Edwards, son of former Headmaster L.O. Edwards – recalled in one of his letters. How and why it started being called that is lost to us.
The MSN group had several messages from Oakgrovians asking if anyone knew where one could get Jap Cakes, or if anyone had a recipe, or if anyone knew where Moula Bux was now. There were a few probable recipes listed down by girls and boys, which had been tried at home by some. Similar discussions have since happened on the Yahoo group and then on Facebook. Rajan Tiwari, Pratibha Madan, Somasekhar Amirapu, Neeta Gupta, Shantanu Sen et al have contributed with recipes and pictures of the elusive ‘cake’.
Some of us take an annual pilgrimage to the Alma Mater. Given the proximity of Delhi and Mussoorie, Founders’ Day is a propitious time to visit the hills, not only to escape the blazing summers, but also to meet old friends at school. Before ascending the hills, we usually stop by at Dehra to partake the hospitality of good folks like the Bakshis (Sunny and Hunny), Ayub (’91), and the Sharmas (Dheeraj and Neeraj). This time, in the 130th year of the foundation of Oak Grove, we were with Sunny, Hunny and their family, when the phone rang.
The call was from Abdul Qudoos, the proprietor of Bustan. Sunny had been pointed in Bustan’s direction by Kailash Tauk (’82), but after a warm initial conversation, he had been elusive. So, it seemed unusual for him to call back. But we were in for a pleasant surprise. Abdul Qudoos had called to say that he had attempted to make Jap cakes that day, and we could pick those up from his shop. The bakery is in Clement Town, on the road to Delhi, about half an hour from Sunny’s house. Although it meant an extra hour or so of driving around, it would have been plain stupid to not go back. So, we drove.
Dehra has become like any other capital city: brimming with traffic, smoke, noise, and flyovers. We took one of them and missed the cut for Turner Road. Google Maps pointed us to another roundabout route, one that we had taken on a storm hit night while coming to Dehra on a Founders’ Day trip some years ago.
Bustan is not difficult to find. With its prosaic facade, which one may find anywhere in Mofussil India, it is not too difficult to miss it either. Inside, rows of rusks, cookies, and usual Indian confectionaries line the shelves. The past remains unbetrayed; layered upon like a civilisation yet to be discovered.
The last time Moula Bux & Sons made Jap cakes was in 1994. Most Mussoorie schools had their own bakeries by then. Boys and girls would get breads, buns and tea-time cakes that were prepared by their school’s bakeries. The often seen figure of the Moula Bux courier – Yaseen, with a trunk on his head, plodding the mountains, providing kids with stick jaw, éclairs, peanut toffee, Jap cakes, peach cakes, buns, pastries and cream rolls – disappeared. Business had taken a hit. From its quarters near the Chena Ram store on the Mall Road, Moula Bux & Sons moved to Dehradun. Members of the family shifted to different places in the world. Some went to Canada, some to the Emirates. Some like Zaheer and Zahoor, who were the last managers of the Mussoorie store, stayed around finding other vocations. One has passed away now, the other is in America.
People who knew Moula Bux’s family say they were Garhwali Muslims. Perhaps his ancestors came and settled in the Ghoghas village near Tehri in mid-seventeenth century. The battle of succession between Aurangzeb and Dara Shukoh had been bloody. Dara’s son, Sulaiman Shukoh and his contingent had sought refuge with the Garhwal king, who ultimately betrayed him.
Moula Bux straddled with the business of supplying poultry, eggs and fish before settling down with his bakery. In the early part of the twentieth century, the twin hill stations of Mussoorie and Landour were a mélange of American missionaries, convalescing British soldiers, officers on furlough, well-travelled writers, poets and politicians, amongst others. One cannot hazard a guess as to how Moula Bux came to discover the Jap cake. Like the story of its name, this is another story waiting to be written.
Unbeknownst to Abdul Qudoos, the ineffable taste of Jap cakes simmered in the minds of Old Oaks. Time passed without news and probability of finding that old flavour. Encrusted by nostalgia, old students started experimenting with their own versions – the profound uncertainty of memory adding or subtracting to its make. Qudoos and his Bustan had been found by Kailash Tauk, but that was only the beginning. It was Qudoos’s father-in-law and Moula Bux’s relative, Deen Mohammed Bux, who had kept the recipe, secure in his heart.
Jap cake, according to the Oak Grove lexicon, is a delicacy that is little bigger than a cookie, with a sweet core sandwiched between two crunchy layers, encrusted with nuts, tough to bite into, and delicious to the last bite. Deen Mohammed tells us that the ingredients of the Jap cake are simple: Egg white, sugar, powdered almonds and cashew, chocolate/vanilla frosting, and peanuts. Egg white has to be beaten and sugar gradually added. Powdered almonds and cashews have to be mixed along with broken pieces of peanuts. This concoction is then poured onto a tray, which has been oiled and sprinkled with maida, and heated at 180 degree centigrade in an oven. The chocolate frosting is then applied and the cake is cooled to make it crunchy.
- 200 grams of egg white
- 250 grams of sugar
- 100 grams each of powdered almonds and cashew nuts
- Ground Peanuts
- Chocolate frosting
According to The Landour Cookbook, edited by Ruskin Bond and Ganesh Saili, sugar is the deciding factor behind the success of a cake recipe at a high altitude. As the elevation increases, the proportion of the sugar to use decreases. Deen Mohammed suggests that a high proportion of sugar makes the preparation of Jap cakes harder during the rains.
Moula Bux & Sons used to send nine men across different schools of Mussoorie, at least, from 1940s onwards. For fifty years, every weekend, it seemed like a Tuck man was sent by God, carrying manna from heaven. One can only hope, now that it has seen a revival, – that many more get to taste it rather than just vicariously savouring it.
– Nikhil Kumar (2005 Batch)
This article is a work by Nikhil Kumar. This was shared by him over email on June 03, 2018.