Nimbu pani

“There is hardly any nimbu, some sugar and a lot of water in Sukhia’s Nimbu Pani, but we all love it,” said a fellow student as he introduced me to the most famous dhaba at St Stephen’s and its legendary owner, ably assisted by his son, Rohtas.

The kiosk that housed the dhaba was ironically a Coca Cola tin shed, but what far outsold the imported aerated drink was the home-made concoction that surely goes back to time immemorial, with local and other variations that have been passed with pride from one generation to another. The dhaba was situated next to the cafe, woe to anyone who called it a canteen. A place that served scrambled eggs and mince was special, not like other eating joints in the campus and beyond.

The Dhaba is where students hang out                                                 From Website

As I saw a luscious nimbu filling up the TV screen during a commercial break, I remembered those hot days when we went to Rohtas to get a nimbu pani, and a glass, at times two, were enough to beat the summer heat and cool us down. Sometimes, we would ask for a bun-samosa as a special treat.

Rohtas                                                                                         From Website

Rohtas would use an enormous cauldron, that the uninitiated thought was an aluminium patila, to stir the concoction, and a wooden squeeze would make short shrift of dozens of fresh nimbus and squeeze the last citrus drop of lime.

The late General Zia-ul-Haq liked to flaunt his connection with St Stephens. He had studied in the college but had not passed out of college, an excuse seized by many Stephanians to explain away his dictatorial behaviour—he had not spent enough time in the college to imbibe the true values that St Stephens stands for. Whatever little hope the good General had of being recognised as a Stephanian was dashed to the ground by Sukhia. Asked if he had any recollection of the young Zia-ul-Haq, Sukhia said: “No. He did not have any account with me”.

All of us philosophy students who routinely hung around at the dhaba while waiting for our 3 pm Philo Soc meetings every Friday totally appreciated the neat way in which Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) was mutated by Sukhia into: “He had no account, therefore he did not exist”.

Zia, ever the master PR person, sent a basket of mangoes for Sukhia. Lately we have been inundated with TV advertisements of a bottled mango flavour that is supposed to be sexy and sweet, and the new drink Nimbooz, which uses the fruit and the squeeze brilliantly contrasted against the azure sky. It made a pretty picture, but for us who have been brought up on the real thing, these bottled drinks are not even poor substitutes, merely well-packaged pretenders.

This middle by Roopinder Singh was published in The Tribune on May 4, 2009.