Did you ever wonder about the journey of the scarlet red syrup that permanently sits in your kitchen and rules your heart in scorching summer? Hamdard's Rooh Afza, which has become a significant part of our life, has an interesting story to tell. It has grown up like a rose out of an ice-frozen ground over the years.
Rooh Afza (Persian for "Elixir of the Soul") was founded by Hakim Abdul Majeed in Delhi in 1906 during colonial rule. The syrup made up of khurfa seeds, carrots, oranges, watermelon, a touch of spinach, khus-khus, lotus, two kinds of lilies, and a distillate of damask roses was meant to be a tonic. But sometimes, words meant to be confined within personal diaries find their way out through pinholes in the pages, soothing souls who never knew they needed them. Same was true for Rooh Afza. People found that two tablespoons of sparkling ruby-coloured syrup not only helped cure fever but also tasted delicious and defeated sweaty shirts and humid rooms. Soon what was started as medicine became the most popular drink. Rooh Afza became a prosperous enterprise and a famous name.
It improved the haemoglobin content of the blood. It helped in decreasing body heat and was quite useful to curb fever, vomiting and diarrhea. It also promoted the nitrogen content of the body and was thus an ideal beverage. In March 1922, Abdul Majeed died at the age of forty. Before his death, he wrote a will to waqf (Islamic irrevocable trust) his company Hamdard. 85% of the profits earned by Hamdard Laboratories go into Hamdard National Foundation (NHF) which disperses the funds for charity across various Hamdard institutions. Rooh Afza is another name for healing.
For forty years, Rooh Afza ruled the market, sending its produce from its headquarters in the old city to various regions. But then the undivided land could not survive being one. India was partitioned to form Pakistan in 1947. Rooh Afza bore witness to the shattering of walled cities, as barriers of animosity replaced the once-immortal essence of love. It heard the panic and rush of old families leave and new ones replace them. The whole economy had a setback. Rooh Afza too did. Yet, a mere border could never stifle the resilience of a beautiful idea. Abdul Majeed's eldest son chose to remain in India while the younger brother travelled to Karachi, Pakistan to set up a new Rooh Afza plant and started producing it under a roof which had two rooms.
Hakim had said that his team utilized old bottles and labelled them in the beginning. Initially Rooh Afza was packed and sold in wine bottles made up of glass but that were replaced by plastic ones for safety and convenience. Hamdard Laboratory was set up in Pakistan and soon developed its goodwill and popularity in the country. This brand soon grew into a global one. More than half of the syrup market is now controlled by Rooh Afza, we all know why. Its aroma has gracefully transcended borders. Today, it is relished by consumers in Pakistan, England, New Zealand, India, France, Germany, and several other European countries. Rooh Afza boasts a remarkable legacy of over 116 years, standing as a testament to its enduring appeal and unwavering popularity.
Rooh Afza's remarkable past tells its story of mediocrity, medicine and mercy. In its nascent stage, it embodied mediocrity, created by Hakim with a vision to serve as both a fleeting summer delight and a remedy for fever. Eventually, it bestowed its mercy upon the realm of exotic syrups and delighted countless palates. Despite enduring the trials of wars, Rooh Afza emerged as a revolutionary force, becoming synonymous with peace. A tough day at work or a lazy day at home, Rooh Afza suits both. A glass of water or a cup of milk, Rooh Afza moulds itself perfectly with every circumstance. It is a great companion to falooda, sweetmeat and the sun's vitamin D tongue. Rooh Afza makes its way where other drinks fail to find one.
In 2019, during Ramadan when India was running out of Rooh Afza, Pakistan aided it with its transport to the country. Amidst the frequent coverage of Indo-Pak tensions in the media, an often-overlooked narrative is the remarkable journey of Rooh Afza, with its bottle originating from Pakistan and its cherished recipe hailing from India.
Fascinated by the tremendous popularity and ever-growing demand for Rooh Afza, many companies and enterprises tried to make syrups that looked, smelled and tasted like Rooh Afza. For example: Jam-e-Shirin. But none could match its unique qualities, aroma and effectiveness. And never would. Rooh Afza is, was and will always be in the limelight in the world of soft drinks. Memories are not only stored in books but also in tapestries, designs, edibles and drinks. Memories are also stored in Rooh Afza. It has eroded cities. It has moved people. It has crossed a lot of boundaries and entered as many hearts as it can. It has soothed uncountable tribes, refreshed so many communities, stayed still and wandered as well. It scents memories and cools burning foreheads.
The world is in a constant state of flux as the desires and needs of humanity evolve with every passing minute. We look for new. We want unique. We desire different, time and time again. Time and change walk in tandem. But some things never change. Jane Austen's words are often revisited. Ancient beliefs still exist in new generations. Today's influencers are seen recreating 90's celebrities' looks. Rooh Afza is still our favourite. Even if we don't know why it has a flowery label cover. Even if we don't notice how Hamdard is a medicine company not a cold drink enterprise. We prepare milkshakes, lemonades, chilled-kulfies, sweetmeat and what not? Rooh Afza is our grandfather's beloved. Rooh Afza is our father's beloved. Rooh Afza is our beloved. After all, old is gold.
Khatija Khan writes and dreams. On days when the whole world is falling apart, words become her home. She is quiet in person and a chatterbox in her poems. Books, evenings, and ice cream are her ideas of heaven.