I f there is one drink that defines post-school shenanigans for Indian kids (particularly before the 2000s), it is the quintessential Kala Khatta Gola. Despite parental objection, questionable quality of ice, and serious hygiene risks, the popularity of this slushie delight remains unchallenged.
This sweet and sour crushed ice beverage is flavoured with a reduction made of jamun (java plum), or more commonly, a store-bought syrup in kala khatta flavour. Its name translates to "black sour" in Hindi and refers to its dark, purple-black colour and tangy flavour.
The drink was originally made by mixing crushed ice with syrup made from a mixture of black grapes, lemon juice and sugar. With time, store-bought syrups swiftly replaced fresh fruit extracts.
Other than kala khatta, there is an entire spectrum of hued flavours of ice lollies popular in India, such as blackcurrant, raw mango, lemon, pineapple, tamarind and also Rooh Afza. The drink is often garnished with fresh fruits, herbs, and spices, such as mint leaves, ginger, and black salt.
Interestingly though, ice lollies are not an Indian creation. It is likely that the first kind of snow cone was made in Japan. Known as kakigori, this Japanese shaved iced treat was first introduced in the country during the Heian period (794-1185), when ice was brought from the mountains and stored in special ice houses. The ice was used to cool drinks and make frozen treats, such as shaved ice. Over time, kakigori became a popular treat in Japan, especially during the hot summer months.
The popularity of kakigori soon spread to other parts of the world, including Hawaii, where shaved ice was introduced by Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s. It is quite likely that it arrived in India in a similar way, but over the years we have completely made it our own. Indian pop culture is replete with references to Kala Khatta Gola -- be it movies, TV shows, advertisements, or even comic books. Popular community spaces such as beaches, parks, markets and fairs continue to feature these ice lolly stalls and receive heavy footfall, even today. While the tangy taste of the beverage does make for quite an allure, especially during summer, there's also the nostalgia overdrive that comes with it. The shredding of ice blocks, the clinking of glass bottles filled with syrups of myriad colours and of course the slurping of the ice lollies -- all these distinct sounds make a soundscape that is both hard to forget and hard to resist.