Diplomacy and the Drama Around Rooh Afza’s Disappearance from Store Shelves

From Hamdard Pakistan’s offer to send Rooh Afza supplies to India to Bollywood planning a film titled Rooh Afza!

Annabelle D’Costa

What’s over a 100-years old, bright red in colour, sweet to taste and equally loved by Indians and Pakistanis? No prizes for guessing—Rooh Afza a summer favourite for generations of Indians (and Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, we now know!). For most of us 90s kids, its arrival announced the arrival of the long, hot summer months! The rose-flavoured sherbet has not only been a summer staple, but it also occupies a prominent place on the Iftari spread during Ramzan. Sipping Rooh Afza stirred in cold milk after Roza, has almost become a tradition for thousands of Muslims across the country. Mixed with cold water or added to milk topped with ice, ice cream or kulfiRooh Afza takes one right back to hot summer afternoons when it was served to the family or guests who arrived with sweaty patches on their clothes.

Also read:

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This year though, the Rooh Afza story saw an interesting twist when patrons realized that it had gone missing from store shelves after Ramzan began on May 5, 2019. It was even reported in the media that the classic rose-flavoured drink sold by Hamdard India faced a short supply crisis due to a family dispute among the stakeholders of the brand. The timing of the shortage was what created a flutter. Summer months reportedly see a 25% spike in the sales of Rooh Afza, and to add to this, Ramzan had begun and people were missing the sweet, pink milk during Iftaar! The shortage of the syrup caught the attention of Tweeple who began wondering why the drink had gone missing!  

Soon enough on Twitter, ‘Rooh Afza-loving Indians’ wanted to know when their favourite drink would be back:

Things got interesting when Usama Qureshi, MD and chairman of Hamdard Pakistan, stepped in. Hearing about India’s shortage of the cool sherbet, Qureshi tweeted that Hamdard Pakistan would be happy to send their products to India via the Wagah Border.

But before this Rooh Afza diplomacy could take off, Hamdard India stepped in to respond to Qureshi’s tweet, reassuring him, and its loyal fans, that “production of Rooh Afza in India is in full swing…and the situation is only getting better every day. 

This was followed by an official statement from the company to announce the ‘soul-stirring refresher’ was back in the Indian market. It cited short supply of certain herbal ingredients as reason for the temporary shortage and asked its patrons to not be misled by "incorrect information…about non-availability of Rooh Afza." 

Also Read: 5 Desi Drinks to Quench your Summer Thirst

If you’ve so far not been convinced of the cult status of its sweet, strong fragrance, here’s where you’ll change your mind. A film titled Rooh-Afza, with Rajkummar Rao and Janhvi Kapoor playing the lead roles is being planned, and we are already curious! 

How did an overtly sweet, sherbet concentrate become such a cult product?

The Rooh Afza story goes back to 1906 when Unani practitioner Hakim Hafiz Abdul Majeed created the rose-flavoured drink, and in the same year, set up a small shop/dispensary he called ‘Hamdard, according to twitter handle Muslim Voices India. Hamdard, which in Urdu means 'close companion' and 'sympathiser in pain', grew into a large brand over the years, with several products such as Safi, Roghan Badam Shirin and Joshina, and a hospital in Delhi. But Rooh Afza remains its hero product.

According to Hamdard India’s official website, Rooh Afza has herbal ingredients with cooling properties beneficial in summer. After the partition of India in 1947, Rooh Afza found its way into Pakistan and later, Bangladesh. Majeed’s younger son is credited for starting Hamdard Laboratories (Waqf) Pakistangiving birth to Pakistan’s very own version of Rooh Afza that tastes the same as the Indian versionAfter Bangladesh was formed in 1971, Hamdard expanded its operations there. Apart from the flavour, in India, what seems unchanged is the packaging—the drink is still sold in the classic glass bottle, with a colourful label—unchanged, holding steadfast to its legacy.

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Hamdard Pakistan, on the other hand, has launched products like Rooh Afza Go—a carbonated drink sold in cans to appeal to the younger patrons. Back in 1910, when Majeed launchedRooh Afza, he sold the concentrate in used-wine bottles and took the help of Delhi-based artist named Mirza Noor Ahmad to design the labels. The end result? A label bearing illustrations of fruit, herbs and flowers 

That’s how we love it even today—because Rooh Afza is more than a drink. It has the magic of memories stirred in with sweet, refreshing flavours of summer!

Lead image conceptualised by Vartika Pahuja 


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