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With summer here, it’s time to savour the choicest coolers of Amritsar

The city has a plethora of coolers up for grabs come summer season. Many head for

Kashmiri di Hatti, the expert lemonade maker near Crystal Chowk, in existence for the last 77 years. The enterprise has been using the same glass marble sodas we talked about for its lemon cooler for years. It is not just the soda, but the kala namak (black salt) and a secret masala combo that he adds that churns the taste and spikes the humble lemonade or nimbu paani into a delicacy, an unmatchable shikanjvi beverage. Like hundreds of others, we have been his customers since our tennis-playing days in school, and his fame is indeed eternal.

But the all-time favourite is the barf da gola (ice candy), or the chuski as visitors from the Hindi heartland would call it. This is so Ambarsari that relatives and guests line up for the grated ice marvel, watch the art of it, as the vendor scrapes the ice block on an inverted carpenter’s wood plane, rounding the shards onto a steel mould, inserting a wooden stick into it, slit a couple of inches off course for that firmer hold on the ice, then pressing upon the ice with bare hands, and finally adding the sugar syrup with a flourish, just before presenting to you to slurp.

All this as you watch, like the pleasure of the journey before the destination, the ample wonderment in eyes that follow every move of the cart vendor, much like watching the magic of the Turkish ice cream cone-men. Finally, an end to the drooling as the tongue tastes the relish and ecstasy ensues. But before all this begins, there are choices to be made. You could pick the green syrup, the pink, the orange or the red, even a rainbow multi syruped one for an extra few bucks.

The harvest season brings in its own delectable coolers. My favourite is the sattu chiller, the sweetened one or the salted hydrator option. This is more of a home-made thing available only at a few places that serve sherbets and squashes like that Town Hall place Madaan Di Hatti, an age-old legend in town from 1919.

They have the most incredible variety of almond sherbets, made of almonds, plums, strawberries or even Jamuns. But back to the sattu chiller. This Indian cooler is made from chickpeas across the hot North, but not in Amritsar. This amazing heat reliever is made of barley here, tastes phenomenal and chills you to the core. The other, of course, is the thandai or the sardyai, which combine the fragrance of rose petals, cold milk, iced with a blend of poppy seeds and more. Oh man, this is the stuff to die for.

But Guddi, this little village girl, from the pind close by, out with her family in her Vaisakhi best, the reddened lips and tongue giving away the ice candy treat she has already gorged on, has her heart set on the mango ice cream as well. So off goes the flock, indulgent father in the lead, to Sukhram’s shack on the Lawrence Road. That hand-made delight, with real mango pulp, no artificial flavours or hydrogenated oil to substitute real milk, is still served from the wooden casks it is made in. However, the girl’s brother, Laadi, has his mind set on the tutti fruity instead. Obviously, the elders have also decided to indulge themselves. So out come glassfuls of the rich fruit crème, full of cut fruit and cashew, almonds and more. Life feels good and zestful, so the kulfis are left for their next trip into town.

Meanwhile, the visitors from down south slurping on softies next door look at this family fete, feeling cheated at their lack of knowledge. The extrovert in the group actually steps up to Guddi to jot down all the treats that they have missed. Their bucket list of post-dinner desserts is now ready. The father even remarks, “Biba, enhan nu kulfi baarey vi das de angrezi vich,” asking her to tell them about the milk candy and “frozen noodles” as well.

This is also the season when the chabeels kick in, random groups gathering to give away sweetened water for free to the thirsty passer-by. Yes, there are some mandalis who pop up, collecting money in the name of a Gurupurab or another celebration, but these are an aberration. Where else in the world would you find random folk standing in front of your moving car, hands folded, and literally pleading with you to have some variation of water, some milky sweet, some rosy sweet, some lemony sweet, thirst quenchers in service from a “four bamboos and a tamboo” tent contraption, loud spiritual music in the backdrop. Well, this is something indeed.

The culmination of course is Guru Arjun Dev’s shaheedi gurpurab in June when it is scorching hot, and real souls are saved by this effort. My granny was one who would, despite her age and her frailties, insist on going the whole hog, to Gurudwara Ram Sar Sahib, dressed in a crisp, white saree and a ghoonghat (head covering) to please the lord, me in attendance to save her from the jostling. Then she would say she has to sip the sweetened jal (water) as well. Oh boy, the exasperation I felt as a teenager then. And the realisation today of the depth of her feelings that she had to venture forth like that.

Nature bestows this city with four exquisite yet extreme seasons that swing from the sub-zeros to the under-fifties in Centigrade. Alongside are the opportunities of rich bounties, both to provide and to enjoy. The month of Vaisakh is only the beginning. No wonder the city is known as ‘Amritsar Sifti da Ghar’ or a place where goodness abounds.

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