April is here, which means ceiling fans need be dusted, water bowls be placed outside for birds — not to mention, the warm clothes be packed. It’s also the time the chhalli walas (corn knob sellers) and dry fruits vendors will disappear from the roadsides, and be replaced by pushcart vendors of traditional summer drinks.
As temperatures rise, slowly but steadily, humidity and dust increase too. The amount of heat we face means that we must keep ourselves hydrated during the time we are out. Rauh (sugarcane juice), kanji (black carrots’ juice), satu (a gram flour drink made with brown sugar), nimbu pani (fresh lime drink), imli-alu bukhara sherbet (tamarind and plum drink) are the most popular ones to do the needful.
Once in a while you may find fresh fruits or vegetable juices, too. And, of course, who can forget lassi (buttermilk topped with spices), an all-time favourite.
Every drink comes with a colour of its own that appeals to the eyes. Who wants to have carbonated drinks when you can get large glass mugs filled to the brim with dark-purple, opaque or light-brown drinks served with good helpings of crushed ice?
However, as most people are health conscious today, even these refreshing and delicious thirst-quenchers are looked at skeptically by the ‘elite’ for their hygiene quality and presentation. A few days back, I saw a man selling nimbu pani in the upmarket area of Liberty, Lahore, and asked my friends if they would like to have it. They refused it outrightly. Their reason: they didn’t trust the hygiene quality.
I looked closer and found that the vendor was crushing ice on the footpath in a tyre tube(!), and he used a bucket with unclean water to rinse the glasses. A few blocks away, another fruit juice vendor was offering the same in disposable mugs. Now this was better, I thought.
Mercifully, a number of vendors have now ‘upgraded,’ so to say — some have added glass booths on their pushcarts or kiosks, with the their wares on display and to maintain a modicum of cleanliness. While this transformation has resulted in an increase in business, many people still question the hygiene factor. One such vendor can be seen in Faisal town Lahore, who sells sugarcane juice in disposable glasses and maintains a fairly good standard of cleanliness.
Speaking to TNS, Hammad Anwar from Punjab Healthcare Commission says, “The thing with roadside sellers is that they are mobile and not easy to catch. So, even if they are marked, they disappear before the authorities [can] reach them.
“Also, these vendors are aware of the fact that they are selling substandard drinks because of which they keep an eye on any movement by the authorities.”
He further says, “We take action when people complain to us. People are now more careful about hygiene which is a good thing. But the lower- and middle-class consumers don’t bother much, which can be harmful for their health.”
Some of the vendors are also keen to up their game. They want the same taste that a well known restaurant drink may offer. This attitude helps to increase their clientele.
Abdul Hamid, who sells kanji at a spot in Model Town, says that it’s “not easy to make the drink; it requires to be fermented for a good few days, and we have to keep our utensils clean, otherwise it is spoiled.”
Hamid claims to sell “about 30 to 50 glasses [of kanji] a day,” but this will end as the black carrots go off season. He will have to switch to some other drink.
Juice vendors are also spotted outside schools and colleges; they seem to be competing fiercely with the ‘kulfi wala’ for attention.
In upmarket restaurants and cafés you can find seasonal drinks on the menu; however, these are far more expensive, and most of them carry ‘essence’ instead of the real fruit.
While the people want to stay cool in summers, at the same time they do not want to compromise on their health. Hence, the tempting colours and affordable prices of roadside drinks can be a bad catch, until and unless you have ensured the hygiene quality.
The items prepared by these vendors must be checked by the officials of some regulatory authority and only given licenses afterwards.
In case you dread picking up any drink from the roadside stalls, you can always get recipes and ideas from the internet and make the refreshing drinks at home yourself.