Juice ki dukaan se agla cut
(Take the next turn from the juice bar)
If you’ve grown up in India, you have heard these lines. You have also stored pocket money to have a dazzling glass of juice, twinkling with color, and topped with a wholesome white froth, served in a beer glass with a long straw. And you have waited to be picked up near the landmark that is the juice ki dukaan. Also you have mixed weird flavors of anar with gaajar—pomegranate with carrot– just because you can.
Because the juice ki dukaan is more than just a shop – it is a place of possibility. It is here that the chikoo, which tastes like nothing except sugar, transforms into something glamourous in the form of a chikoo shake. Here that can take the juice out from bananas, and maybe even stones. Here that you drink mango shake with candied fruit and cashew nuts, so indescribably good that it’s sinful. Here that the familiar fruits and vegetables of the kitchen get transformed through the juice of entrepreneurship to become ‘bahar ka khana’, the forbidden fruit of childhood.
The juice ki dukaan is cool because there is one guy there, the juice wala, who runs his hardworking tall mixie, suggesting outrageous combinations of milk and fruit, dry fruit and fresh fruit, of masalas and sugars, of ice that’s crushed and fruit that’s warm because it’s just been juiced – one smiling man who makes something wild out of fruit and his imagination.
This place of possibility is also a centre of art. Many juice shops have the most unlikely ambassadors (even better because the faces in question do not know it). To know which stars are highly favoured, look at the juice shop. In earlier years, the shops had hand-painted faces of movie stars smiling at you, a juice straw dangling from their lips like a cigar. Photoshopped Katrina has now replaced handpainted Sridevi, but the sentiment, I think, remains the same. In the kitsch of the juice shop, only the biggest stars will do, the leading men and women who power movies in sleepy towns – their faces look out from tureens of bananas, chikoo and pineapple.
For me, this art represents a kind of smiling India that believes in painting over its scars with creativity and good humor. Expensive movie stars may be the ‘ambassadors’ for juices – interestingly tying in with the idea of stars sipping fresh juice on a movie set – but the actual juice rates are down to earth. You may not be able to finish a tall glass of bloody looking anar juice, the best twenty rupees you will spend.
Juice and shake have now entered the hindi lexicon, jostling with words like cut (for taking a turn), jack and stepney, tyre, and puncture. ‘Ras’ is the correct hindi word for juice, but the ownership of words like juice – right from the bacchanalia of the shops to the way the word rolls of the tongue – means it is now firmly Indianised.
Apart from the juice shop, there are a few more markers of the Indian city and town landscape. There’s the haddi-doctor. He is a guy who uses ayurvedic unguents and potions to heal broken bones (and possibly hearts). He has an amazing tent, secret ingredients, and a maalish (massage). The tent moves with as much mystery as his cure. The stars advertising the haddi doctor are world wrestling heroes (with broken bones and arms in slings).
There are also the hair saloons of the neighborhood, advertised by the biggest pop stars of the world. A unisex saloon in East Delhi has One Direction’s Zayn Malik smirking from below his mop of carefully-styled casual hair. K-pop singers from Korea look out from other saloon boards, and occasionally you may find a Bollywood film star – though clearly pop singers are preferred in this genre of imagination.
I mourn the fact that easy screen printing and flex banners have displaced the hand painter. Gone are the ‘painter’ signs – the artist who created film stars crying and hyperventilating on movie billboards, or coolly sipping dreamy milkshakes. Sometimes the painted actors didn’t resemble the real person. That was the fun of it. You had a Shahrukh or a Madhuri from the artist’s imagination – or it was Madhuri and Sridevi’s features put together in one face, as if the artist forgot what he had started to make, next to a flood of fruits painted with spots of white to look fresh and dewy.
Under the painted or photoshopped banner, if the shop is big enough – and the entrepreneurship steady enough – the juice ki dukaan will have a back section. This is a contraption with a wheel, a machine to take out juice from sugarcane. This is a real investment, not just of money but also of space. It signals the shop is there to stay. The crusher takes out eye-wateringly-sweet sugarcane juice, but the glass of juice that is handed to you is much more – it has some hidden fruit, or some coveted masala, some leaves of mint, that feeling of India making do with whatever it gets, shiny yet achievable, inexpensive yet precious. You can’t get more value for money anywhere else than in the hardworking small-businesses, and the colony juice-walas of so-many squares and corners of India.
Agla cut is from juice ki dukaan, and dekho magar pyaar se.
read more about juices-
Image by balouriarajesh from Pixabay