There were always some kind of drinks available at my parents’ home to enjoy the summer evenings before we set out to play with friends. Mostly it would be bel ka sharbat (wood apple juice), or aam panna (raw mango drink). These are the exotic summer fruit based drinks, believed to work wonders on digestive ailments and cool down the body heat as the temperature rises outwards. But there were days when homemade lassi (sweet yogurt concoction) in its purest form would make its way from that old matki (earthen pot) into our colorful glasses. Just plain yogurt, sugar and some water churned together, without any flavoring or color would taste divine.
I’m talking about the pre-packaged drinks era, where carbonated drinks, bottled or canned juices have not yet invaded our small town home & kitchen. Everything was prepared from fresh, raw ingredients available in the season.
This summer I made a perfect SCD lassi, to my taste, exactly the way it was made and served in that iconic shop in my hometown, sans a few changes to suit the dietary guidelines.
There was a small shop Banarsi lassi bhandar, with maybe ten seating arrangements located in the heart of ‘Variety Chowk’(a name I guess, must have been given due to its wide variety of shops) , a busy market in my hometown. They serve the best summer relishes like kulfi, faluda and some cool summer drinks that were mostly enjoyed as a drink on the go. No one in the neighboring stores probably knew the history of this shop. Some say that their ancestors migrated from Varanasi, hence the name. Who knows!
Usually my father is not the one to give up easily on our pleas when it comes to deal with our appeal of dining out or savor street foods. More often than not, the appeal would be dismissed or traded in by a promise of homemade delicious meal. His utmost concern about hygiene and our well- being would always come in the way, but today is one of those unusual days when he happily joined the band wagon. I guess the reward of coming home after a year.
It's early April afternoon but the weather is far from pleasant, the summer sun is high in the center of a cloudless sky, constantly raging arrows of fire. It’s been hours since we have been roaming around in this market from one shop to another, the sweat and heat is about to melt us down as we enter this shop.
An old man maybe in his late sixties sitting on a high table, his adept fingers constantly churning yogurt with a wooden churner in a big earthen pot, long lost its original color and shine by the use. He takes a tall glass, fills one-third of it with crushed ice followed by dark pink rose syrup. He then slowly pours the churned yogurt and carefully places a thick layer of malai (milk cream) and some chopped nuts on top. Awestruck by his speed and proficiency, I watch the whole process with curiosity. Beautiful swirls of pink slowly rising from the surface and merging in the pristine white concoction. The strong smell of rose syrup and yogurt sank in, and that moment of pure bliss froze neatly somewhere in the background until it was shaken back to life this morning while I chose to recreate those moments for my kids in a place we call home, away from home.
I had to cut down on the sugar hence the rose syrup was replaced by rose water and honey, without compromising on the taste & fragrance. The memories associated with that distinct smell trickled in like a slow stream flowing gently over weathered stone and the desire to take just one sip became irresistible.