Summer special.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Rose petals, lemons, a sunflower and water — this glass is a dream.

Selling cold drinking water for 1-2 rupees per glass, refrigerated water trolleys invade Delhi roads every summer. Some of them now sport a new look.

A trolley outside Palika Bazar in Connaught Place stands testament to the increasingly refined aesthetics of our city’s street-side civilization. Four glasses are laid out in a row; each looks like a dotingly maintained vase filled with water, lemons and flowers.

“These colourful flowers invite attention,” says the water hawker, Mr Sandip, who goes by only one name. “Don’t they cool your heat-stricken mind?”

Yes indeed, even though the ugly stack of plastic glasses might annoy an environmentally conscious customer. “It’s the first time I’m keeping the plastic,” says Mr Sandip. “Nowadays customers are very demanding about saaf-safai (hygiene) and they only want disposable glasses,” he adds.

Priced around 20,000 rupees, these trolleys are sold at central Delhi’s Ram Nagar Market. The buyers are mostly migrants from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The trolleys are filled up with water daily from the New Delhi Municipal Council approved water cooling plants (there are 126 in its area). In winter, when the demand for trolley water dips, most of the vendors return to their villages.

Quite a few trolleys have resorted to profound alterations, recognition that packaged water bottles are fast becoming our daily companions.

A cart in Connaught Place’s A-block has flourished by appropriating the very products that could threaten its existence. It advertises B’lue, a flavoured water brand, and stocks dozens of bottles of soft drinks and fruit juices, including cans of an energy drink. “Until three years ago I sold only water,” says vendor Deepak Mehta. “But nowadays people hesitate to drink trolley water because they fear it might not be clean. Then a friend who has a trolley in Saket told me that I should also start stocking Bisleri (mineral water) and Minute Maid (juices).”

Similarly, a trolley man in D-block serves not just cold water and the customary nimbu pani (lemonade), he also concocts drinks like Gola Lemon, Lemon Soda, Masala Soda and Goti Soda. He even has pouches of jaljeera powder. Decked with packaged water bottles, the cart has a row of three glasses as its centrepiece — one is filled with a green pudina (mint) masala drink, another with an orange “tang” drink, and the third with plain water.

“I introduced soda two years ago,” says Shobhachand Das, adding “Just selling water is no longer enough.” This vendor moved to Delhi after a flood submerged his village in Bihar a few decades ago and has been operating a trolley since.

The most memorable swig The Delhi Walla had while surveying these trolleys was at a cart on Lodhi Road. A plastic basket was filled with lemons, green chillies and a large velvet rose. The young vendor made the nimbu pani the usual way by squeezing a lemon into water and then, smiling mysteriously, he crushed one whole green chilli into the glass with his squeezer. The refreshingly cold drink had a kick to it. Summer was forgotten — if only for a while.

I want this trolley

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