If there’s one drink that has been keeping us, our parents, their parents, their parents, and even the British nostalgic, it has to be Roohafza.
Be it drinking it at at your grandparent’s place, with chilled water and a squeeze of lemon, or serving it at Gurupurab, it has been a family and social drink.
Roohafza started in 1906 to beat the monstrous heat of Delhi by a practitioner of Unani and herbal medicine, Hakim Abdul Majeed.
Unani system derives its philosophy from the Greek physician Hippocrates, who believed in the healing power of nature and advocated that medicines be safe and gentle
It was first sold by Hakeem Majeed’s Dawakhaana called Hamdard, in Lal Kuan Bazaar of Old Delhi. Hamdard means the ‘sympathiser in pain.‘ Roohafza, however, is a Persian word meaning – ‘Soothing to the Soul’
And the Bangladeshi website of Roohafza says it was the name of a character adopted from the book of Masnavi Gulzar-e-Naseem written by Pandit Daya Shankar Naseem Lakhnavi. And who was the character? It was the name of the daughter of heaven, also called Jannat ki Beti
BRINGING TO THE MARKET
It was released in 1907 with a fancy label, designed by Mirza Noor Ahmad, that still remains unchanged. It was too complicate to be printed locally and was sent to was printed by the Bolton Press of the Parsees of Bombay. And, the earlier Roohafza bottles were heavier and taller with a long stem, made of glass, closed with wooden cork, like a wine bottle. The today plastic bottle avatar came rather recently in 2012.
And there are records that by 1912 many princely rulers made it a part of their daily diets. It became especially famous amongst the Muslim communities as it could be drunk during Ramadan or Ramzaan, at the only meal of the day, at the end of their Rozas, called Iftaar, not just because its refreshing but also because its natural.
At iftaars, the entire family eats together and mothers and grandmothers pour it huge from jugs. It’s the perfect family drink. And this is what can be seen in movies today, remember that scene from Ye Jawaani Hai Deewani with Ranbir Kapoor’s mother pouring him a glass?
ROOHAFZA, PARTITION, AND THE FAMILY
Hakim Majeed passed away in 1922 leaving the reigns in the hands of his 14-year-old son Abdul Hameed who successfully expanded the brand and the business. But like many homes in India, Partition broke the family and Mohd. Said, the second son moved to Pakistan. At that time they had setups in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh too. So, it can be said that Roohafza has witnessed the bloody birth of three new countries. Of which, Arundhati Roy mentions the same in her book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
SHERBET RECIPE + ROOHAFZA INNVOATIONS
Typically, a sherbet has either a base of Fruit, Flower, or Roots – Roohafza has all three. It contains natural ingredients like khus (poppy seeds), lilies, keora, roses, sandal, juices like pineapple and orange, and much more. And minus the two nostalgic ways of drinking, there’s much more that can be done.
Hamdard has tried some innovations of their own as well. Be it launching its ready-to-serve format like RoohAfza Fusion, or having RoohAfza inspired drinks at Barista coffeeshops, or even developing RoohAfza flavoured milk. But, one of the most talked about play was its carbonated drink sold in cans, in Pakistan, as RoohAfza Go. Some didn’t agree with it, some did, but, who are we to say
In Indian, Roohafza still dominates 50% of the powdered soft drinks and liquid concentrates. Saveur Magazine, considered by many to be the last word on authentic cuisines, ranked RoohAfza No. 1 in the drinks category from around the world in 2007.
SHERBETS IN INDIA
But, do remember, sherbet, sharbat, sarbath…whatever you call it, has had a longer standing history in India than Rooh Afza. The word comes from the Arabic term shariba, meaning “to drink”, and arrived in India with the Mughal Emperor Babur in the 16th century.
Well, Sherbets may have come with them but their earlier rendition has been mentioned in the Travels of Ibn Battuta in Asia and Africa, where he describes a royal meal he had with the 14th century Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq at Tughlaqabad in Delhi. He mentions sherbet of rose water that was served before meals, which ended with paan.
Roohafza has been a classic dressing in Faloodas and Rabris, which also was brought in by the Mughals from Persia, and Humayun was especially a fan of.
Interestingly, his son, Akbar was a vegetarian three times a week. He cultivated his own kitchen garden and carefully nourished them with rosewater, so that the vegetables would smell fragrant on being cooked!
Well, definitely sherbets have come a long way. In the new age, people are getting kicks from international drinks. In such times, we would like to see more Indian drinks returning to bars and restaurants after the lockdown lifts. we’d happily opt for a Roohafza over any carbonated drink even at a hotel or a restaurant. And why stop at that. Why not use it mixology, or baking, or desserts. I say let’s do that. In times of Atmanirbhar Bharat and Vocal for Local, and let it not just be a drink from our childhood, and drink up our heritage and be proud of it.
And to that, Cheers!!