Major Ramazan crisis for Indian Muslims — no RoohAfza in the market

Published May 7, 2019
RoohAfza, the sherbet made by Hamdard Laboratories, has been off the market in India for four to five months now, and is not available at online stores. — Photo courtesy: Wikimedia
RoohAfza, the sherbet made by Hamdard Laboratories, has been off the market in India for four to five months now, and is not available at online stores. — Photo courtesy: Wikimedia

As the holy month of fasting begins, Indian Muslims are faced with a crisis much bigger than the Ramazan-versus-Ramadan debate — there’s no RoohAfza in the market.

Breaking the fast in the evening, iftar, has traditionally consisted of pakoras, fruit chaat, dates and RoohAfza. An iftari without RoohAfza is just not the same, at least for North Indian Muslims.

RoohAfza, the sherbet made by Hamdard Laboratories, has been off the market for four to five months now, and is not available at online stores.

Production has restarted only recently, said one of the directors of Hamdard, Mufti Shaukat.

“RoohAfza will be back soon,” he said.

A receptionist at the Hamdard office gave an estimate of 15-20 days before the sherbet is back on the market.

Hamdard put out no official word on why it stopped production, but tried blaming it on the shortage of “raw material”. The truth, a source claimed, has to do with a family dispute.

What the dispute is about

The dispute is over the chair of Chief Mutawalli (equivalent to CEO) of Hamdard, which is currently held by Abdul Majeed, the great-grandson of Hakeem Hafiz Abdul Majeed, the Unani medicine practitioner who founded the company in old Delhi over a century ago. The company also owns traditional medicine brands such as Safi, Cinkara, Masturin and Joshina.

Abdul Majeed’s cousin Hammad Ahmed has been trying to take over the company, claiming rightful inheritance. He even went to court for it, and the legal battle put a stop to the production of RoohAfza, sources said.

Hamdard is registered as an irrevocable Islamic trust, known as a waqf, and under its rules, transfers 85 per cent of its profits to the Hamdard National Foundation, an educational charity. The foundation runs, among other institutions, the Jamia Hamdard in Delhi. The deemed university has the distinction of running the only private medical college in Delhi, and this valued institution, sources say, is a major reason for the family dispute.

The battle went straight up to the Supreme Court, which in its judgment on 3 April, refused to give interim directorship to Ahmed.

No comment on why production stopped

RoohAfza’s social media accounts have been dormant since September 2018, only coming out of the deep on Facebook recently to say they’re “overwhelmed by the love” shown by their patrons, hinting the sherbet will be back in the market soon.

Asked why production had stopped and for how long, director Shaukat refused to comment, while Chief Mutawalli Abdul Majeed did not answer calls and messages.

Sources said the production of RoohAfza has restarted only under pressure from Muslims in view of Ramazan, and not because the legal dispute has reached any resolution. There have even been rumours of RoohAfza shutting down.

Pakistan’s gain

Founder Hakeem Hafiz’s younger son Hakeem Mohammed Said had migrated to Pakistan and established Hamdard Laboratories Waqf Pakistan soon after Partition.

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Courtesy: @thesingingsingh Follow: @puranidilliwaley The Partition of Rooh Afza: Established in 1906 by Hakeem Abdul Majeed, Hamdard (meaning "Sympathizer") was a Yunani medicine shop in Delhi's Lal Kuan Bazaar. Around 1907-1908, Hakeem Majeed launched a non alcohoalic medicinal concentrate called 'Rooh Afza' (Soul Enhancer) to combat Delhi's hot loo winds. Packaged in glass bottles with the iconic label by Delhi artist Mirza Noor Ahmad, Rooh Afza contained a perfect mix of fruits, vegetables, herbs and roots all infused in a sugar syrup. It is said that the first consumers were so mesmerized by the taste of this ambrosial drink that over a hundred bottles were sold in a few hours. What started as a medicinal drink became popular as a delicious summer drink all over Delhi. To meet the rising demands, Hakeem Abdul Majeed started to mass produce Rooh Afza at a factory in Ghaziabad, just outside Delhi. Soon this drink became one of the most iconic delicacies of Delhi along with Nihari and Bedami poori. By 1947, Rooh Afza was found in every kitchen in Delhi and most of the places in the United Provinces. With the September riots of 1947, Delhi's Muslims started to flee their homes and started to take refuge in the refugee camps built in Purana Qila and Jama Masjid. Many families were torn apart, as one part opted for Pakistan and the other chose to stay behind. Hamdard was no exception. In 1948, one part of the Hamdard family headed by Said migrated to Karachi in the new state of Pakistan. Hamdard Pakistan was started from scratch in a two room rented space. The magic of Rooh Afza worked, and in no time Hamdard Pakistan became very successful. The creation of Bangladesh in 1971 resulted in a final partition when Hamdard Pakistan gave birth to Hamdard Bangladesh. #puranidilliwaley #1947partition #olddelhi #delhiarchives #britishlibrary #roohafza #beverages #foodporn #stories

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This entity has been an indirect beneficiary of the legal dispute raging in India, since the sales of imported Pakistani RoohAfza have shot up. Although it’s not readily available in stores, the Pakistani version is selling for over Rs 375 a bottle, as against Rs 145 for the one manufactured in Ghaziabad.

Hamdard’s plans to modernise its business and grow its revenues have been stalled due to the dispute. Meanwhile, Pakistani Hamdard is growing by leaps and bounds, having given a production licence in Bangladesh and dominating global exports of RoohAfza. It has even launched a carbonated version of RoohAfza in Pakistan, called RoohAfza Go.


This article originally appeared at theprint.in and has been reproduced with permission.

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