In Pakistan, Rooh Afza scents memories and refreshes souls | Food


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There’s a story informed within the lanes of Outdated Delhi of a constructing that smells of roses. The constructing is now deserted, however should you stroll inside you’ll not see the caved-in roof or the damaged partitions. You’ll be distracted by a mehek, a odor, that individuals who reside and work in these lanes say they know nicely. It lives on, virtually as if it has seeped into the very foundations, even in spite of everything these years.

In 1907, a hakim (herbalist) had his clinic on this constructing within the Lal Kuan Bazaar. On a sweltering summer time’s day, he determined to attempt to make a cordial for his sufferers, to refresh and hydrate them and soothe away the illnesses the warmth introduced them. The odor of the cordial wafted out of his clinic – the Hamdard Dawakhana, “Hamdard” being a companion in instances of struggling – and thru the bazaar. It was intoxicating. Phrase unfold rapidly, and a crowd gathered. By dusk, the hakim’s first batch was completed.

The individuals in these lanes didn’t know what was within the candy, ruby-red focus, however these first clients to strive the hakim’s creation handed down tales of its style and odor. It was unmistakable: roses.

A closeup of the label of a rooh afza bottle, under the image of brightly coloured fruits is the slogan "over 100 years of refreshing the world naturally"
A bottle of Rooh Afza, the soul refresher. Presently, Rooh Afza is manufactured by Hamdard Laboratories, India, Hamdard Laboratories (Waqf) Pakistan and Hamdard Laboratories (WAQF) Bangladesh [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

Hakim Abdul Majeed named this drink Rooh Afza – the soul refresher. He used distillates of herbs, fruits, flowers and greens to make a focus that was combined with water or one other liquid and consumed. It’s believed to have had as much as 21 elements identified for his or her cooling properties, together with sandalwood, vetiver, purslane, screw pine, mint, spinach, and the heady rose.

He was a practitioner of Unani Tibb – “Yunan” is the Arabic time period for Greece, whereas “Tibb” is medication, and this technique derives its philosophy from Greek physicians however is used to check with Islamic or Japanese medication. Whereas Unani Tibb has been formally recognised by the Pakistani authorities since 1965, this holistic strategy to medication has been studied within the subcontinent for the reason that time of Avicenna.

Hakim Majeed couldn’t have identified on that summer time day in 1907 that in 40 years, India as he knew it might stop to exist, because the subcontinent was cleaved in two and his circle of relatives was break up between India and the brand new nation of Pakistan. He couldn’t have guessed that his work would survive the bloodshed of partition. That within the a long time to return, Rooh Afza would journey far past the lanes of Outdated Delhi to 37 international locations. That within the alchemy of his easy elements was the beginnings of a scarlet empire.

‘The King paints the globe crimson’

In March 2018, the NASDAQ display in New York’s Time Sq. lit up with the colors of the Pakistan flag as an commercial for Rooh Afza performed. It was the primary time the inexperienced and white flag had been displayed in Instances Sq., a part of a marketing campaign launched by Usama Qureshi, the 37-year-old outdated CEO of what was now Hamdard Laboratories Pakistan.

A hand is seen swirling straight rooh afza onto the top of a cup of milk blended with more rooh afza
A drink made by mixing milk and Rooh Afza is topped off with an ornamental swirl at juice carts alongside Burns Street – a well-liked meals road within the coronary heart of Karachi [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

That second in Instances Sq. was a daring announcement: Hamdard had world aspirations for Rooh Afza. It had lengthy been bought exterior the subcontinent in “ethnic” grocery shops to cater to waves of South Asian immigrants so far as Australia. In 1995, a New York Every day Information story about ice cream toppings referred to a “thick milk mix-in often called Rooh Afza” that was bought at a Bangladeshi store on Lexington Avenue for $4 a bottle. It “seems to be like cherry juice and tastes like fragrance”, the reporter famous, and it may be used to make “the nationwide sundae often called faluda” (a chilly dessert of vermicelli, rose syrup, basil seeds and milk topped with ice cream).

Greater than twenty years later, tons of of passers-by in New York had been served Rooh Afza because the commercial on the Nasdaq display proclaimed: “The King paints the globe crimson.” Qureshi was not glad with the established order. He wished Rooh Afza on cabinets at main supermarkets. It was an formidable leap ahead for a corporation that had began from scratch within the new state of Pakistan in 1948.

Partition, identification, and custom

When Hakim Majeed handed away in 1922, his spouse Rabia Begum managed his clinic’s work for a couple of years till her eldest son, Abdul Hameed, took over. She declared Hamdard a waqf, an Islamic charitable belief, whereby all income would go in direction of public welfare.

Rabia Begum’s youthful son, Mohammed Stated, was impressed by the Muslim League, a political social gathering advocating for the separate Muslim state of Pakistan and freedom from British colonial rule. He wished to grow to be a journalist, however his older brother Abdul Hameed satisfied him to review medication. In 1940, because the Muslim League was passing a decision demanding independence, Mohammed Stated graduated with a level in jap medication. By 1948, whereas his brother remained on the helm of the corporate in India, Stated migrated to Pakistan, with the plan to arrange Hamdard there too. He introduced with him his father’s system for Rooh Afza.

Two black and white advertisements for Rooh Afza appear, showing the bottle with advertising copy under it. This ran in India
Two ads for Rooh Afza from the Illustrated Weekly of India, from 1977 (left) and 1980. Each appear to check with rivals and stress that there’s ‘nothing like’ Rooh Afza [Al Jazeera]

The unique recipe has been guarded and stays nearly unchanged, aside from small tweaks by Stated, explains his daughter Saadia Rashid, now president of Hamdard Pakistan. For example, as kewra (screw pine) was not obtainable in Pakistan, Hakim Stated used the much less overpowering gul-e-bahaar (spring rose) as an alternative. The flowers of the turanj (citron) fruit, which develop for just one month or so within the northern areas of Pakistan, had been used as distillates too.

At first, Stated was making each bottle of the cordial himself at his clinic in Karachi’s Arambagh neighbourhood. On the primary day, he bought 12 bottles. Demand steadily grew and by 1953, he opened a producing unit in Nazimabad – a neighbourhood so sparsely populated on the time, Rashid recollects, individuals joked solely mice scurried round there.

A photo of shelves in a superstore with rows and rows of rooh afza bottles in arranged in terms of size, biggest ones at the bottom
Rooh Afza bottles displayed in a big superstore. Such a show solely seems throughout Ramadan when that is the drink of alternative at iftar [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

Hakim Stated was an astute marketer. He wrote his personal promoting copy and dubbed Rooh Afza “mashroob-e-mashriq” – the summer time drink of the East. Commercials in newspapers, magazines and girls’s weeklies promised that it might “replenish vigour in the summertime’s warmth”, slake thirst and remedy fatigue.

Bringing Rooh Afza into the house was vital, and ads that includes hand-drawn illustrations of wedding ceremony invites and musicians inspired households to welcome their company with glasses of Rooh Afza to deepen “friendship and emotions of attachment”. In one other, a girl cooking in her overheated kitchen pauses to mop her forehead whereas daring promoting copy suggested her to refresh herself with a glass of Rooh Afza.

Shots of two black-and-white ads in Urdu, on the left is a housewife cooking and on the right is a Pakistan athlete.
A lady cooking in a scorching kitchen is suggested to chill off with Rooh Afza within the commercial on the left, whereas the one on the fitting advertises a competing drink, Shezan’s Samarqand. Each ran in Pakistan’s Akhbar-e-Khawateen in 1979 [Al Jazeera]

Commercials and tales about Rooh Afza had been positioned in kids’s magazines, together with Hamdard’s personal journal, Naunehal. Effectively-known kids’s tales had been rewritten to swap water or milk for Rooh Afza. “That’s how Hakim Stated linked with a era,” Faizullah Jawad, Hamdard’s director of promoting and enterprise growth, explains.

“He understood that should you create a behavior in them, they’ll carry it for all times. Rooh Afza would grow to be their model.”

On each side of the border, a era of kids was inspired to drink milk made extra engaging by the lashings of candy Rooh Afza their moms swirled into it.

For some who had it solely as a uncommon candy deal with, Rooh Afza was the stuff of desires. As a baby in Kurnool in southeast India, author Archana Pidathala was allowed Rooh Afza solely at birthday events. When she moved to Bangalore (now often called Bengaluru) as an grownup, she was free to indulge, ingesting Rooh Afza with basil seeds at juice retailers or faluda ribboned with the syrup at a dhaba, a roadside eatery.

PHoto of a man's hand drizzling rooh afza onto a bowl of falooda
Faluda – a well-liked chilly dessert made with ice cream (kulfi) and vermicelli, usually topped with a drizzle of Rooh Afza at a well-known dessert store on Burns Street, Karachi’s oldest meals road [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

Rooh Afza was positioned as Pakistan’s de facto “nationwide drink”. At a time when it was not the norm, the corporate sponsored hockey and squash tournaments. “[H]ockey stars like Samiullah Khan had been served Rooh Afza throughout breaks within the sport,” says Jawad.

Through the India-Pakistan conflict of 1965, fighter pilots on one mission had been bid farewell with miniature copies of the Quran and an imam zamin (an amulet within the type of a material band tied to the arm believed to provide the wearer safety). On their return, they had been acquired by their commander-in-chief’s spouse, who served them chilled milk with Rooh Afza.

Over the a long time, at the same time as relations bitter between India and Pakistan, traces of a shared previous invariably emerge in traditions, and most frequently, in a shared palette. Whereas in Pakistan, glasses of Rooh Afza are served on iftar and Eid tables, Bombay (now Mumbai)-based music producer Tushar Bhatia, who created the soundtrack for the cult hit Andaz Apna Apna, was commissioned to write down a jingle for Rooh Afza by Hamdard India within the early Nineteen Nineties in time for Diwali. He merely used three phrases in the entire commercial, “Hamdard Rooh Afza”, because the drink’s connotations of celebration, refreshment and sweetness had been already so well-known, and the phrases had been repeated over a crescendo of dhol, tasha and nagara – several types of percussions and drums.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, refugees poured into camps in Peshawar, and bottles of Rooh Afza had been despatched by Hamdard as a part of reduction provides. They had been welcomed by the refugees, however Hamdard’s managers had been mystified by the variety of bottles the camps had been going by way of daily. Upon investigation, it was discovered that Afghans had their very own most well-liked approach of ingesting Rooh Afza: they’d pop the cap and drink the cordial neat, with out diluting it.

The cap of a Rooh Afza bottle that's been refilled with the prepared drink is seen among chilling bottles of water and chunks of ice
A bottle of Rooh Afza refilled with the diluted combination of the squash being chilled in a bucket of ice water earlier than iftar [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

Dr Abdul Hannan, director of Hamdard’s scientific sciences division, migrated from Delhi to Karachi in 1970 to work with Hakim Stated. He tells of watching employees on the Rooh Afza plant soaking their rotis, unleavened bread, within the thick syrup and consuming them at lunch. “It retains us in good condition,” they’d clarify to him.

Throughout the border in India, an analogous perception in Rooh Afza as a cure-all persevered: in some villages in Punjab within the Eighties, there are even tales that it was poured in automotive engines to chill them down after they overheated.

However above all, for Muslims from the subcontinent, Rooh Afza had an unbreakable reference to Ramadan. After an extended day of fasting, the drink quenches the thirst and provides a much-needed hit of sugar. “The adults broke their quick with a date, as is prescribed by the Sunnah, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, after which they’d have a glass of Rooh Afza proper after,” Dr Hannan says.

“As a baby, I assumed each – the date and the Rooh Afza – had been Sunnah as a result of nobody broke their quick with out them.”

A black-and-white ad shows a competitor of Rooh Afza, Naurus
An commercial for one among Rooh Afza’s rivals, Naurus. It references Hakim Stated’s tagline of ‘drink of the East’, declaring Naurus the ‘drink of the instances’, ‘the superior drink’ and the ultimate phrase in style. It appeared in Akhbar-e-Khawateen newspaper in Could 1979 [Al Jazeera]

Delhi-based author Rana Safvi recollects that there was no fridge in her residence within the Sixties, so the household would pour Rooh Afza over slabs of ice from the market to be able to have jugs of the chilly drink at iftar.

Meals author Dina Begum, born in Sylhet, Bangladesh, says that even after her household migrated to the UK in 1984, Rooh Afza was at all times at their iftar desk. Bombay native Tasneem Mohamedbhai, who lives in Amsterdam, says the Bohra (a Muslim sect) neighborhood ship a Ramadan package deal to each member of the neighborhood within the Netherlands and Belgium. In it are provides like corn flakes, oats, sugar, ghee and milk.

And, at all times, a bottle of Rooh Afza.

Two large dispensers of prepared rooh afza are seen on a table with two sets of hands filling bottled with the drink.
Rooh Afza is ready in bulk at charitable meals distribution websites that pop up throughout Pakistan. Many bottles are emptied into massive dispensers and combined with water and ice. As soon as the focus is diluted with water and ice, it’s poured again into the bottles and distributed to the households consuming iftar [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

‘The roof from over our heads’

In 1980, Hakim Stated’s 34-year-old daughter Sadia Rashid joined the corporate. Her father, a principled man, was not going to provide her any particular remedy and he or she was given a desk reverse his secretary, Mrs D’Silva.

“No job was too menial,” she recollects. “Even when Mrs D’Silva informed me to staple papers, I did it.”

As she discovered the ropes, Rashid was in a position to observe her father as he labored seemingly across the clock. “He wouldn’t waste a minute,” she mentioned.

Hakim Stated used to say that for 2 days per week he was an ustaad (trainer), for 2 days a tabib (one who cures the sick), and for 2 days a businessman. When he was not coaching apprentices or treating sufferers, he was nonetheless on the go. Rashid remembers being at an airport with him, ready, when he pulled out paper and pencil and started working on a emblem for Hamdard.

13 years later, Hakim Stated served as governor of Sindh for a yr, talking out towards corruption. In 1998, he was shot by members of a rival political social gathering. He was 78.

Rashid took over, inheriting an organization that felt her father’s loss keenly. He had been in command of a lot that even the artwork division had no computerised designs for its labels or packaging – he had overseen all of it, working with a painter and calligrapher. “It felt as if we had misplaced the roof from over our heads,” recollects Dr Hannan.

The corporate persevered underneath Rashid’s management, persevering with to make regular income, however it by no means actually experimented, not even with the bottles Rooh Afza was bought in. “Once I joined Hamdard [in 1999], I do not forget that all day you’ll hear the sound of smashing glass at intervals from the manufacturing unit ground,” says advertising and marketing supervisor Jawad. Making the change from glass bottles to PET that yr confronted resistance as a result of retailers fearful clients would reject the plastic bottles. See, the glass ones had been reusable and, as Jawad himself recollects, there’s a reminiscence many Pakistanis have of utilizing an emptied Rooh Afza bottle to retailer and chill water in – the water can be infused with the style and odor of the syrup.

A hand is pouting prepared (diluted) rooh afza out of a glass pitcher into a short glass. Another person can be seen in the background, out of focus
A chilly glass of Rooh Afza diluted in water being served [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

By 2017, Hamdard discovered itself at risk of falling behind the instances because it was now coping with a brand new era of shoppers that didn’t have the nostalgic reference to a model like Rooh Afza. “If we wished to outlive, we needed to provide you with new issues,” Rashid says.

The primary huge change was the choice to rent a CEO who was not from the household.

Usama Qureshi had grown up ingesting milk with Rooh Afza and studying Hamdard’s kids’s journal, Naunehal. Hakim Stated had inaugurated the faculty he studied at and visited as a visitor of honour at particular occasions. When Qureshi joined Hamdard, he was embarking on a labour of affection. “I felt prefer it was a trigger, not only a job,” he explains. “I did it for my era who’re dad and mom or changing into dad and mom, so their youngsters would know Hamdard the best way that we did.”

By the point Qureshi joined, the corporate was making 9 billion rupees ($48m on the present trade price) in income. It had a roster of 500 merchandise, together with gripe water, cures for constipation, toothpaste, “detoxifying” syrups that promised clear pores and skin, and natural teas for relieving coughs. Rooh Afza was Hamdard’s star product: by 2017, it was promoting 70 to 80 million bottles yearly.

In 2019, when a scarcity made the information in India, Qureshi tweeted jokingly that Hamdard Pakistan was keen and in a position to ship the beloved drink throughout the Wagah border. In 2021, Rooh Afza introduced in $45m in revenue for Hamdard India, based on The New York Instances.

Qureshi’s new job was not with out its challenges. The general public noticed Hamdard as an “outdated and cussed model”, he mentioned, and the packaging and advertising and marketing had been “out of date”. Most people on the firm had been there since earlier than he was born.

He didn’t mince his phrases. “Organisations that don’t change, die.”

Eight bottles of Rooh Afza sit haphazardly in a yellow crate on the ground, ready to be prepared at a charitable food distribution site.
Rooh Afza is ready in bulk at charitable meals distribution websites that pop up all around the nation. A number of bottles are emptied into a big dispenser to be combined with water and ice [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

Change or die

When Qureshi determined to shake issues up, he was understandably nervous. “Rooh Afza is 70 to 75 % of Hamdard’s income,” he explains. “It’s a giant gamble if the change you’re making doesn’t work or alienates shoppers.” He engaged a Swiss firm of meals consultants and stored experimenting with new codecs.

“I drank Rooh Afza with glowing water, and in the future, I puzzled – what if we created a carbonated model,” he says. And so, Rooh Afza Go, a fizzy drink in a can, was launched in 2019. Qureshi didn’t count on it to be worthwhile competing in a carbonated drinks market dominated by world giants at a worth level prohibitive to many. “This was one thing new, one thing that obtained prosperous shoppers curious,” Qureshi defined. He wished to get a dialog, a viral second, going.

Hamdard has since promoted the flexibility of Rooh Afza, highlighting the truth that it may be added to meals, dessert, used as a flavouring, or combined with any liquid. The corporate created a combo with Sprite, a milky Doodh Rooh Afza, a sugar-free model and “fusion” flavours in ready-to-drink packaging. It experimented with varieties at meals festivals, similar to Pom Chiller (with pomegranate), Chill-o-Cran (with cranberries) and Melted Chocolava (darkish chocolate and Rooh Afza).

Rooh Afza’s clients have additionally been creating their very own twists. The iterations are past something Hakim Abdul Majeed might have imagined. In Delhi, author Safvi visited a road vendor close to Jama Masjid who mixes it into an icy milk-and-watermelon drink to make sharbat-e-Mohabbat (the drink of affection).

Architect and concrete designer Uzair Siddiqui in Berkeley, California, grew up ingesting Rooh Afza, and now creates his personal variations of the cordial. A go-to flavour is steeped hibiscus cooled and added to a mix of muddled strawberries, Rooh Afza and kumquat zest.

A photo of three men grabbing as many bottles of rooh afza as they can fit in their arms at a charitable food distribution site
Rooh Afza being ready in bulk at charitable meals distribution websites is a well-recognized sight [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

The focus is used as a mixer in cocktails, in ladoos (sweets), mousse, the Center Japanese pudding mahalabia, popsicles, and in souffle.

In Bangladesh, anthropologist Lotte Hoek discovered, Rooh Afza is prized for its crimson hue and is used on movie units as an alternative to blood; make-up artists add flour to the combination to make “a sticky viscous model to smear on lower cheeks and grazed arms”.

Underneath Qureshi, the advertising and marketing started to focus on a youthful viewers. One of many first new ads featured a father writing to his daughter, newly married and moved away. He sends her a bottle of Rooh Afza – a balm for homesickness and a reminder of his love. A social media marketing campaign inspired individuals to share images and tales about their fathers.

The corporate met compliance standards for exports to the West, and commenced stocking at supermarkets like Tesco in the UK, Walmart in america and Woolworths in Australia. Hamdard’s 4 factories in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar churn out as much as 600 bottles of Rooh Afza a minute daily. And this yr, it expects a 15 % improve in export.

Dina Begum, the meals author, talks fondly of the drink as a childhood deal with that evokes highly effective reminiscences of belonging, significantly for these within the diaspora neighborhood. She has observed a resurgence in Rooh Afza’s reputation exterior South Asia lately, fuelled partially by the mainstreaming of meals like ghee or yakhni (bone broth) within the West. It doesn’t damage that the syrup is aesthetically pleasing. “It’s Instagrammable!” she says.

A bottle of rooh afza is shown on a straw mat, in a square of sunlight
Rooh Afza is a childhood deal with that evokes highly effective reminiscences of belonging [Khaula Jamil/Al Jazeera]

Because the West embraces South Asian flavours similar to haldi-doodh (turmeric milk), Begum wonders if Rooh Afza is ready for its second. “If we are able to get turmeric lattes at Starbucks, maybe a Rooh Afza latte shouldn’t be far behind.”

Sure, Hamdard’s revamped social media technique, diversification or advertising and marketing might be answerable for Rooh Afza’s endurance, says Dr Hannan, however he has one other principle.

“You wish to know the enterprise secret? Hamdard does two sorts of enterprise: it sells to the general public, and it does enterprise with Allah,” he says. As an Islamic belief, income are channelled into training, healthcare and charity.

“As Muslims, we imagine that if we do enterprise with Allah, He’ll multiply what we earn. It’s Allah’s assist that we obtain. And what can beat that?”

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