Idea Pitha Park in Jashore has started a unique effort to revive the country's traditional cakes.
What the organisers want is to attract the younger generation's attention to the country's traditional delicacies, away from fast food.
A team of youths are working day in and day out to achieve the goal.
Aside from providing an alternative income stream for college students, organisers of the park use profits earned from the venture to carry out various social welfare activities.
Therefore, within just two years of its establishment, Idea Pitha Park has established itself as a unique business initiative, which is being administered by a non-profit called Idea Social Welfare Organisation.
The park started its journey on 9 November 2016.
During a recent spot visit to the park at Shah Abdul Karim Road at Kharki in the district town, a unique ambience was felt. A good number of people were seen enjoying cakes in an environment free from the chaotic hustle and bustle of city life. Footfall increases in winter.
The cake park offers an astonishing 101 varieties of cake, both sweet and savoury.
Once made with love by our grandmothers, now an art that has been lost to the ravages of time, there has been a concerted effort to revive the 'pitha'-eating culture at the park.
43 volunteers, all college, or students of National University, tirelessly work in the park in a bid to protect the cake industry.
According to organisers, those involved in making the cakes and marketing do not receive a fixed salary.
A fixed 65% proceeds from the sales is shared amongst them. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, a profit of Tk4.92 lakh profit was made from total sales, 65% of which was distributed amongst the 43 volunteers serving in the park.
The remaining 35% is used in various social welfare activities, like distribution of warm clothing and blankets amongst the poor in winter, delivery of education materials to underprivileged children, regular medical camps to provide treatment and medicines, etc. Idea also organises various events in mosques during the month of Ramadan. Members of the governing body of the cake park also occasionally provide financial support.
Yasmin Akter, a housewife, visiting the park from Shankarpur area in Jashore town, said, "I have come to buy cakes to feed guests at home. I have bought cakes from here before. Our guests definitely prefer them to fast food. Members of my family enjoy them as well."
Arafat Setu, a resident of Kharki area, said the cake park also attracts customers from other parts of the district.
While this correspondent was busy feasting on sweet 'bhapa pitha' and 'hridoy horon pitha', Hamidul Haque Shaheen, founder of Idea Social Welfare Organisation and also an assistant professor of Jashore Government MM College, spoke about the venture, how, from humble beginnings, the park had become a successful venture in just a few years.
Commenting on the reasons for launching this unique initiative, he said, "The pizza that's so popular today is no better than bread sprinkled with meat. Aggressive marketing and corporate gimmicks have changed our eating habits."
"We are all set to lose this key facet of Bengali culture. But if proper initiatives were taken, we wouldn't need to sit out in the cool air to eat sub-par foreign food purporting to be fast food. The cake could be a unique aspect of entertainment in winter," he added.
He continued, "If people can sit out in the cool air and eat burgers, why can't they have our bhapa pitha (steamed cakes)? Why can't the world get a taste of our puli, pakan, labangalatika, hridoy horon, and meat-sprinkled bread?
"We have such a unique variety of cakes that with the right initiatives, they have the potential to be yet another source of revenue for our economy," he added.
Idea Pitha Park Coordinator Soma Khan said, "With the right marketing plan and proper patronage, the cakes of Bengal can cross our borders and make a splash across the world."
Expressing the hope that the park would one day create employment for thousands of people, she said, "One day, the names of all of Bengal's delicious cakes, including Patisapta, Pakan, Puli, Bhapa and Chitai pitha, will be renowned all around the world."
"We know that won't be easy to achieve, but we still dream that the display cases of fast-food outlets will be filled with local cakes," Soma concluded.