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Bottling up the taste of summer across borders, and generations7 min read

August 6, 2021 5 min read


Bottling up the taste of summer across borders, and generations7 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Do you remember what it is like to be out in the summer heat? Sweat running down your spine, energy dwindling…And do you remember how refreshing it is to have a cold glass of summer goodness quenching your thirst?

Image: Giphy

This time, on The Buzz, we bring to you the story of a drink that has been a summer elixir across history Roohafza!

I remember how I would declare summer for the year the moment I would have the first sip of Roohafza. This beautiful red drink felt like an instant refresher after a long warm day at school. Fast forward twenty years, and a bottle still rests in my grandparents’ pantry reminding me that we still have a few more months of summer, and therefore a few more months of Roofafza, before us. And this is not just my story but the story of almost every household in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh! So, how did this mixture of herbs, flowers, and sugar become a symbol of refreshment for people across borders, generations, and time? Let’s find out!

It’s original recipe that is more than a century old is securely nestled in a family archive in New Delhi, India. But it has stood the test of time, modernisation, and conflict and remained an inherent part of the regions’ quest to quench thirst against a scorching summer sun.

Hakim Abdul Majid. Image: New York Times

In 1907, a young herbalist, Hakim Abdul Majid, tried to create a potion that could help with the health issues brought on by the summer like dehydration, diarrhoea, and heat strokes. What he got from his effort of mixing herbs with sugar was more of a refreshing drink, a sherbet, than a medicine. And this sherbet is what is known as Roofafza, which means ‘soul-refresher’.
The glass bottles would be sold in no time from his small shop named Hamdard.

But Hamdard faced its own challenges along this very long journey.

At the time of its creation, India was still under British rule, and saw prolonged political conflict and violence. Moreover, Mr. Majid died fifteen years after creating the drink, leaving behind his wife, Rabea Begum, and two sons. India was also inching towards partition that would mark one of the most destructive movements across borders ever recorded in world history.

But Hamdard had its own path to make.

Ms. Begum declared Hamdard to be a trust with herself and her two sons as its trustees.


What is a trust?

A trust is a relationship where a trustee conducts business for the benefit of other people (beneficiaries).

Rabea Begum. Image: New York Times

The profits coming out of the trust were to be directed to public welfare, a step that had major significance amidst the violence and struggle that undivided India found itself in.

And then came the partition of 1947, where India was split into two nations— India and Pakistan.

Millions of people walked on foot to reach a place where they could be safer. This movement was marked by loss of lives and splitting up of families. The Hamdard family also split up in the process. Ms. Begum’s older son, Hakim Abdul Hamid, stayed in India and oversaw Hamdard India. He went on to become a noted academician.

Her younger son, Hakim Mohamad Said, moved to the newly formed Pakistan, and started Hamdard Pakistan. He also became the Governor of Pakistan’s Sindh Province.

In 1971, Pakistan was again split into two, resulting in the creation of a new country— Bangladesh. The facilities making Roohafza in the territory now marked as the new country set up their own trust called Hamdard Bangladesh.

All of the three trusts are independent and are run by family, friends, or relatives. While they work separately, they offer the same taste. Different weather and terrain may cause minor changes in the ingredients but the drink promises to refresh body and soul!

Workers making Roohafza. Image: The New York Times

In Pakistan, the drink called a sherbet, is poured from a long-neck bottle, mixed with almonds and milk, and offered at religious ceremonies. In Bangladesh, it is a symbol of respect. A new groom may take it a bottle to his in-laws. Here, it also serves as a metaphor for beauty! And in India, when temperatures begin to soar, Roohafza emerges as the perfect antidote in every street-corner. It can be found as one-time use sachets in roadside stalls and as dessert garnish in restaurants and hotels. While its sales remain consistently high throughout the year, it experiences a spike during the fasting month of Ramdan. During that time, workers in the Indian Hamdard factory produced 2,70,000 bottles a day!

The drink brings close to INR 3 arab in revenue, most of which is directed to a trust that funds schools, universities, and clinics.

Hamdard is also trying to move with time. It now comes as easy to carry juice-boxes, and with flavoured milk options.

Not only has the drink transcended time and borders, it has also eclipsed economic structures.
It offers sugar-free solution at twice the price of the regular bottle that caters to the needs of those who are looking for a healthier alternative. At the same time, it also offers one-time use sachets that are less than a rupee to remain accessible to anyone who needs a refresher! The composition of Roofafza is four-fifth sugar and promises instant energy.

Roohafza in bottles before labelling. Image: The New York Times

Roohafza has bottled summer, taste, and history in its sweet concoction of rose, white water lily, and sandalwood circumventing borders and time. We can’t say about beauty, but there is surely a strong metaphor there!

With excerpts from The New York Times

(The Buzz is a fortnightly column that explores bright ideas that became reality)

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