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HomeDelhiDelhiwale: In cold red | Latest News Delhi

Delhiwale: In cold red | Latest News Delhi

Delhi’s monuments are usually made of red sandstone. An exception is a red sherbet, its origins tightly entwined with the dense tapestry of Purani Dilli’s rich history. Say salaam-namaste to Rooh Afza, the Persian for “soul enhancer”. After a customary wintertime hibernation, the sherbet is again popping up across the Walled City. Here’s a brief but definitive record of its past.

The sherbet was prepared from the extracts of spinach, watermelon, endive, khas-khas grass, coriander seed, damask rose, etc (HT photo)

In 1906, Hakeem Hafiz Abdul Majeed, a pharmacist who trained in Unani medicine during a stint at the legendary Hindustani Dawakhana clinic in Old Delhi’s Ballimaran, set up his own clinic in Hauz Qazi, close to his house in Katra Sheikh Ranjha. Investing 100 into the venture, he named it Hamdard, “partner in pain”.

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A year later, the aforementioned founder, who would die very young, introduced his first offering of medicines. One of those was a potion to heal summertime ailments such as heat stroke, dehydration and diarrhoea. It was prepared from the extracts of spinach, watermelon, endive, khas-khas grass, coriander seed, damask rose, etc. Perhaps because the syrupy dawa was fragrant with the bouquet of appetising herbs and flowers, and tasted sweet due to its high sugar content, it quickly picked up a reputation of being an anytime thirst quencher.

The sherbet’s tall, heavy, long-stemmed bottles would be filled and corked manually in a Walled City factory. Designed by artist Mirza Noor Ahmad, the coloured labels, introduced in 1910, would be printed at Bolton Press in Bombay (now Mumbai).

Following Partition in 1947, the founder’s elder son chose to remain an Indian and didn’t budge from Delhi. His younger son moved to the newly created Pakistan, where he started making the same sherbet in Karachi. After East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971, the property there fell into local ownership. The world today has three independent Rooh Afzas—headquartered in Delhi (Middle Circle, Connaught Place), Karachi and Dhaka respectively. The sherbets share no links with each other except for their common ancestor.

Meanwhile, this afternoon in Rooh Afza’s janambhoomi, a cart vendor is parked outside the Jama Masjid. The cold solution in his metal vessel is filled with chunky blocks of ice-factory baraf. On receiving an order, the man dips his ladle into the vessel, lifting up its bowl the next moment. A silver coin glistens in the iconic red sherbet. It is the summertime sun’s reflection.

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