The Sun God seems more upset than usual this year and is breathing down fire. April’s barely begun and the ceiling fans are working overtime. There are reports that certain parts of North India, already in the mid-forties, are going to hit fifty degrees Celsius this year. There was a time when we in Bangalore would moan and groan and collapse into puddles if the temperature hit thirty degrees but now we are glad if we just about manage to avoid forty degrees.
The happiest people at this time of the year, that too when the school holidays have started, are the cola companies with their incessant advertising on TV, showing people noisily quenching their thirst with chilled bottles appealingly covered with condensation. All of it gives you the impression that you can build a bubble of coolness around yourself, just by reaching out for that bottle or can.
But we know better. Traditionally there are so many drinks that used to be made in homes across India, designed specifically to beat the heat. Those drinks have the capacity to truly quench thirst and cool down the entire body from the inside, instead of just making you hanker for more and loading you with sugar. They come from natural sources, don’t contain BVO and also sometimes contain actual fruit pulp. Of course those drinks would lose out on the ‘coolness’ quotient because they are not accompanied by fancy packaging and glitzy advertising.
The very first one that deserves to be mentioned is the matka stored water. Those round earthenware pots that were brought out every summer to store drinking water, giving it a faint earthy taste, and chilling it in a much friendlier way than the refrigerator. And without power consumption, we might add.
At least in Bangalore, down every street corner, there is a man selling tender coconut water. If you walk down a hot blazing street, there is heaven to be found within the confines of that green coconut shell, the top of which is expertly hacked off and a straw stuck into the hole for you to access the cool, enervating liquid inside.
Then there is the ubiquitous aam panna. A visitor to any north Indian household in the summer is invariably served a glass of this tangy, sweet and salty raw mango drink. Large amounts of the concentrate are made and kept in the fridge, to be readily consumed by the parched multitudes, after adding more water. We must add that we have since discovered the joys of aam panna spiked with white wine. Modernity, must after all, be accommodated in some ways.
The other favourite is the drink made from the Bael fruit, also called the wood apple. The fruit juice is supposed to be one of the most cooling drinks that one can have in the blazing heat of summer, not to mention many other health benefits of the fruit. Similarly, glasses of watermelon juice with mint leaves floating on top make an appearance in most homes at this time of the year. The watermelon vendors appear magically on the pavements of the city as the weather starts warming up. Then there is the buttermilk, lightly spiced with curry leaves and popped mustard seeds to add flavour and the cooling green drink made from khus grass (Vetiver). All of them providing coolness and additional nutrients.
Thirty years or so ago, the only bottled drinks that were consumed widely in summer were the fresh lime soda and the drink made from the Rooh afza concentrate which has been around since 1906. The concentrate contains a gooey mix of various cooling agents including rose petals and has an equal number of people who either love it or hate it. Possibly it needs a modernising impact by way of spiking!
All the fancy, bottled cola drinks claim to cool us down through the sheer power of our own refrigerators as there is absolutely nothing in the drink itself which has a cooling effect. So why are we all veering towards those drinks? Is it the appeal of advertising? Or the pull of sugar? When a plethora of alternatives is available, we all run towards the one that will ultimately do more harm than good.