Bilal Zuberi’s wonderful post on Ramzan in Pakistan has inspired me to finally write about Rooh Afza – something I have been meaning to do for a while. Bilal’s post was made all the more poignant for me because I spent the first week of Ramzan in Pakistan. As Bilal mentioned, one of the many things that is a near necessary feature of the Pakistani Iftar spread is Rooh Afza.
By the way, 2007 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rooh Afza! The mashroob e Mashriq (“syrup of the East”) was first introduced by its inventor and founder of Hamdard Laboratories, Hakeem Abdul Majeed, in 1907.
Of course, this is true not just for Pakistan nor is this the only Ramzan-special drink in Pakistan. But the unstated rule seems that there cannot be Ramzan, or at least Iftar, in Pakistan without Rooh Afza. While this is certainly not true, I will not be surprised if some people actually consider drinking Rooh Afza for Iftari to be baaes-i-sawaab! After the mandatory khajoor, the ubiquitousness of Rooh Afza on the Iftar table in Pakistan vies with the likes of pakoora, samoosa, and dahi bhallay!
There is – or at least was – Naurus too. But that was never really the ‘real thing.’ I know some people who swear that Naurus was better than Roof Afza, but I took them about as seriously as I took those who thought that Pepsi was better than Coke. As someone who cannot really tell the difference between the Coke and Pepsi (I know, I know, there is one) I have am convinced that what makes the ‘real thing’ is not the taste, it is the story. And just like Coke, the Rooh Afza story is what makes it so special. Indeed, it is the Rooh Afza story that makes it such a staple on the Iftari table.
I have known the story for a long time, but only confirmed it as I sat to write this post. And the story is that for many Pakistanis – many Soth Asians, really; because Rooh Afza predates Pakistan – Rooh Afza is the original energy drink (as the name suggests – ‘invigorator of the soul’). But let it not be forgotten that Rooh Afza is not just the “invigorater of the soul” it is also Rahat e Jaan (“hapiness for the body”).
Well before there was Red Bull or even Gatorade, there was Rooh Afza. For most Pakistanis there is still no Red Bull or Gatorade … because Rooh Afza is so much better! I certainly will take Rooh Afza over either Red Bull or Gatorade. And if you want to replenish even more energy (which is the logic behind Rooh Afza at Iftari) just add nature’s energy drink of choice (milk) to Rooh Afza – doodh Rooh Afza. It is this ‘milk shake version’ of doodh Rooh Afza that, I think, is the real Pakistani Red Bull; certainly so in Ramzan.
By the way, I know that the Rooh Afza syrup as a topping over ice cream is a Lahore favorite. There are many many other interested culinary uses it is put to. If you know any, please do share.
A product of Hamdard (Waqf) Laboratories in both India and Pakistan, Rooh Afza is the product that defines Hamdard (By the way, the other great and ubiquitous product from Hamdard is Safi. More about that some other time! ). According to Hamdard’s (India) Rooh Afza page:
It has not been found out yet how the founder of Hamdard came upon the name ‘Rooh Afza’. Some think that this name is the product of his mind. Others express the view that it came from some book of ancient myths and legends. Of such books, one is very famous, the ‘Masnavi Gulzar-e-Nasim’ which was first published around 1254 Hijri. In this book, the name of a character is ‘Rooh Afza’ who, according to the writer, was the daughter of Muzaffar Shah, the King of Firdaus (Heaven).
The site also quotes poet Sail Dehalvi as saying:
If you look at its colour, it enchants your heart. If you taste it, you find its flavour enlivening. In fragrance it excels other flowers. In efficacy it is quite an elixir. Its refreshing and invigorating effect is beyond reckoning. A sharbat like Rooh Afza has never been produced, nor ever shall be.
The idiom on Hamdard’s (Pakistan) Rooh Afza page is equally colorful:
Rooh Afza, ‘one that enhances the spirit and uplift the soul’, for the last 90 years, is a legendary syrup of the East. Rooh Afza is a premier natural cold drink, proved beyond ambiguity that it is more than a cold drink. It is a blend of pure crystalline sugar, distilled extracts of citrus flowers, aquas of fruits, vegetables and cooling herbal ingredients processed to impart the stimulating taste and unparallel quality… It is acknowledged that Rooh Afza: Combats the enervating summer heat; Replenishes lost strength; Satisfies thirst completely; Keeps you cool in scorching summers; and Makes you feel fresh and energized.
… Rooh Afza activates a sensation of satisfaction and tranquility that cannot be gainsaid. It makes a delicious milk shake and its other intake, whether added to water, dessert like custard, ice cream, Falooda, Feerni, always offers a pleasant, soulful experience. During rainy seasons, few drops of fresh lemon added to a glass of Rooh Afza not only satisfies the taste but also keeps you fresh despite the moist season. To those who love tangy taste they may add fresh lemon juice in every glass of Rooh Afza they drink.
Poetry and marketting aside, Rooh Afza is quite a drink and its century old story quite a story. It is a story of ingenuity, product endurance and entrepreneurship. There are few products that have a pedigree to match or which have remained on top of their game in the face of local as well as global competition like Rooh Afza has. I do not know how it does in India but in Pakistan it is an iconic brand.
I would love to hear from our Indian readers about whether and what level of popularity it has there (India, of course, has other iconic drink brands like Limka and Thumbs Up!). But I did find this picture on Flickr interesting. The caption says:
Doing seva (community service) in our colony on Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s Martyrdom Day. Some people making sweet water, made from water, milk, sugar, and Roohafza. Pink Turban man is my hubby.
Maybe its not just Rooh Afza and Ramzan alone that mix well. Other spiritual traditions also find the desi Red Bull appealing!
Photo Credits: Flickr.com. Click on photo to see originals and full credits.
This is a repost, originally published October 7, 2007.