India faces severe Rooh Afza crisis, Pakistan offers help

Pakistan offers India a helping hand over Ramadan Rooh Afza shortage
5 min read
14 May, 2019
Could India and Pakistan come together this Ramadan over the famous rose-flavoured sherbet?
Rooh Afza, a rose-flavoured famous sherbet, is popular in both Indian and Pakistan [Getty]
With the gruelling summer heat and historical Jama Masjid abuzz at dusk in the bustling Old Delhi, India has been hit with a sudden crisis.

Rooh Afza, a rose-flavoured famous sherbet which has been there since 1907, has suddenly disappeared from the market and many Indians are not happy about it. 

Produced and manufactured by Hamdard (Wakf) Laboratories in India and in Pakistan, Rooh Afza is a popular drink in the sub-continent, especially when temperatures soar high, and even more so during Ramadan.

Iqra, 24, a resident of Old Delhi, who has often stored Rooh Afza at home, is fasting and due to the shortage of the product, particularly in the Indian capital New Delhi, she ventured out for the third time in the day in hopes of finding the rose-flavoured drink. 

"I've been to at least 10-12 different Hamdard stores and other shops to find my favourite drink, but to no avail. To be honest, it is pretty sad only to return empty-handed," Iqra told The New Arab.

But while Indian markets suffer the hit, Pakistan continues to produce the drink in huge numbers. It was for this reason, Pakistan offered "truckloads" of Rooh Afza supply to help its neighbours – of course, the offer is subject to approval by the Indian government.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam [Nasir Kachroo]

Usama Qureshi, managing director and chief executive officer of Pakistan's Hamdard company, said on his Twitter: "We can supply Rooh Afza and Rooh Afza GO to India during this Ramadan. We can easily send trucks through the Wagah border if permitted by the Indian government."

Surprisingly, the offer by the private business manager was backed by Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mohammad Faisal.

Faisal, while conversing with reporters outside his ministry in the country's capital Islamabad, said: "If the supply of Rooh Afza from Pakistan quenches their thirst, we will certainly want to do so."

Pakistan's offer created flutter over social media and somehow signified hope for the trade window between the two nuclear-armed rivals

However, Pakistan-manufactured Rooh Afza costs Rs350 in Indian currency, which is more than double the price of the Indian-manufactured product sold at Rs135 (INR). 

Pakistan's offer created flutter over social media and somehow signified hope for the trade window between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

The two countries have fought four wars and were close to fighting another one only months ago after a major suicide attack on Indian paramilitary forces in February left at least 41 troops dead in Kashmir. Local media reported that the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group claimed responsibility.

Read also: Comment : War averted. What now for Kashmir?

Meanwhile, stakeholders in India are trying to find a solution to the crisis. But this isn't the first time the drink loved by hundreds of thousands of Indians has gone out of stock. Earlier, in November 2018, the supply of Rooh Afza came to a halt after speculations were on the rise regarding some feud within the Hamdard family.

On this occasion though, India's Hamdard Laboratories have claimed that the product is out of stock due to a "shortage of key ingredients". Mansoor Ali, chief of marketing and sales at India's Hamdard, said that people should not believe in rumours of any family rift.

"It's all baseless and we urge you not to pay any heed to such rumours. We do not use commonly found ingredients and we are trying our best to make the stock available at the earliest. The reason for the shortfall of the product was non-availability of these ingredients. Primarily, our focus has been to maintain the supply and demand gap in this peak season with no compromise over quality," he said.

Majid Khan, a local Indian resident, says he eagerly awaits for the drink to return. "Rooh Afza has been favourite sherbet for our family especially in summers," he says.

"Unfortunately, now, it's not available in the stores. Being a Rooh Afza aficionado I am seeking online options to get my favourite childhood drink even from abroad," he adds.

Pakistan has offered 'truckloads' of Rooh Afza supply to help its neighbours [Nasir Kachroo]

Hamdard says they have recorded a 25-30 percentage growth every Ramadan, so the return of the rose sherbert poses an urgency for the manufacturer.

"We've ordered the stock but we don't know about the exact delivery following the unforeseen changes. Last week, we were left with just two bottles and thereon, over dozens of customers have returned back," said visibly disappointed Bimal, 29, who runs a store in country's capital Delhi.

With the Rooh Afza crisis amid Ramadan in India, a resident of Old Delhi, Akhil Gupta, 26, is happy to hear the statement from Hamdard.

"It is a sigh of relief for me to hear that stock will be available within a week. To be honest, among all the beverages, I personally cherish this iconic drink," excited Gupta maintained.

However, not many know that initially Hamdard was founded by Hakim Abdul Majeed in 1906 to launch products aimed at preventing water loss and avoiding heat strokes. But with time, the company expanded to producing herbal medicines and later drinks such as Rooh Afza.

Majeed's youngest son Hakim Mohammad Said later moved his base to Karachi in Pakistan to extend his business which further has become an instant hit.

In India, Hamdard caters millions of invaluable customers with its 450,000 retailers. Furthermore, the company has set foothold in 25 countries and is particularly making waves this Ramadan in the Gulf.

But for many Rooh Afza lovers in India, this Ramadan will be a waiting game to see if their favourite drink returns or not. 

Tahir Hussain Sofi is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.