A friend in India once asked me, ‘Why do foreigners drink so many cool drinks?’ (‘Cool drinks’ being Indian English for what goes by the name ‘soda’ or ‘pop’ in much of the rest of the English-speaking world).
I had never really thought about the question, but I guessed that it was a matter of practicality. The sun is beating down overhead. What can be more intense than an Indian heatwave? Steam rises up from the tea stalls or South India’s favoured ‘filter coffee’. They’re delicious, but sometimes it’s just too hot.
Fresh fruit juices invite you with piles of fruits in every colour, but if you’re a foreigner unaccustomed to local water, ice is a devil’s trap, and warm juice without the ice just isn’t as appealing.
So what do you reach for? A soda. Like the one in this quirky vintage Indian ad for orange-flavoured Gold Spot below:
The history of soda in India is a colourful battleground. Domestic sodas ruled the roost until the 1970s, when Coca-Cola made its entry into the massive Indian marketplace. But the company was forced out in 1977, refusing a government order to reveal its secret formula as well as fleeing from Indian protectionist policies that the multinational Coca-Cola wasn’t willing to bend to financially.
In the 1980s, Pepsi, seeing opportunity in a Coke-free playing field, made its stab at the market. After years of fighting with government for the rights/privilege to do business, Pepsi was finally rolling off the shelves by the early 1990s.
Coke too returned to India in the 1990s following Indian economic liberalisation. Though Coke and Pepsi now own almost all of the domestic India soda brands, they are by no means free from scandal and the occasional ill will.
Even today there are a number of Indians who choose local cool drinks – either because they prefer the taste, out of patriotism, or because they are cheaper.
Click here to watch a vintage Korean commercial for orange soda.