For 14-year-old Abhiram Joshi, summer evenings signify carefree long hours of fun and play with his friends. With pocket money in his hands, the day ends with tall, cold glasses of mango Mastani, at the nearest Sujata Mastani store. “Mastani is my favorite drink which I can have any time of the year. But the craving that one gets especially after a hot, summer day, to have a dollop of ice cream on cold milk to quench the heat is a distinctive feeling,” he said.
Back in the tropical summers in the late 1920s, locals frequented Gujar Cold Drink established in 1923 by Baburao Gujar located in the narrow lanes of Budhwar Peth as they served sodas and sharbat (a concoction of a sweet-flavored syrup and water). Two decades later, they introduced to the city of Pune a novelty summer staple drink, then called ‘doodh (milk) cold drink’, writes Sahapedia, a cultural mapping project of Pune.
By the late 1940s, the ‘doodh cold drink’ was found in small corner shops and stalls in the old city. The ingredients included cold raw milk, rose, pineapple or khus syrup served chilled on ice to patrons. The ‘doodh cold drink’ was a seasonal business, which started around mid-March till early June, and it quickly turned into a preferred drink among customers during summers.
“Summers in Pune in those times called for something cold, and ice cream could be afforded only by the privileged. For the common people, the ‘doodh cold drink’ was easy on the pocket… the milk was locally found and so was the syrup, hence it was reasonable for the people, but ice cream required a lot of machines and equipment hence it was a little steep in cost,” said Sachin Kondhalkar, owner of the city’s beloved Sujata Mastani.
A scoop of ice cream became a part of the doodh cold drink in the late 1960s, and soon many mushroom shops in the old city. After the manufacturing of the syrups began locally, so did the manufacturing of ice creams, made traditionally in wooden pots. The ice cream flavors — mango, kesar (saffron) and rose – were aligned to local tastes.
Randhir Jaya Naidu, the founder of the Pune Heritage Walks, a cultural community, said that the people loved the drink so much that they would exclaim “mast ahe” in Marathi which loosely translates to awesome. “Pune is also home to the story of Peshwa Bajirao I and his beloved Mastani. Mastani’s beauty was unparalleled as the stories tell us, and the drink is a sight to behold like Mastani, hence the drink was christened Mastani by the people of Pune,” said Naidu.
Kondhalkar added that the name is the romanticisation of the rose Mastani with mango ice cream by the people of Pune. “When the mango starts to melt into the rose flavored milk, people say that it resembles Mastani’s beauty and delicate nature when she ate paan…it is, I think, how people wanted to describe the drink of Mastani,” he said.
Many local players apart from Gujar, like Kawre ice creams, Ganu Shinde ice cream and Buwa ice cream satisfied the demand for Mastani, by serving their very own versions of the city’s native drink. Over the last eight decades, their collective efforts have seen the beverage evolve from its humble beginnings.
“Versions of the drink can be found elsewhere and might even have different names, but Mastani was and is Pune’s. Falooda, in that sense, is like an Iranian cousin of the Mastani, while the sundae from the United States is the Mastani without the milk,” said Naidu.
Sharad Raoji Kondhalkar, Kondhalkar’s father, instead of taking up the family business of a paan (a betel leaf delicacy) shop in the heart of the city at Sadashiv Peth, decided to venture into making ice creams and established a shop called Sujata in 1967, writes Sahapedia.
Altering the original recipe, Sujata Mastani evolved its flavors and taste, attracting more walk-ins. Sharad Raoji Kondhalkar removed the ice from the original ‘doodh cold drink’, as when it melted it made the drink watery and diluted the flavours. He started boiling it the raw milk, thickening, letting it cool and then started to add the flavored ice cream into it.
“When served, it was flavored milk topped with the same flavored ice cream made in-house. That way, by the time the person gets finished with the ice cream, the milk has absorbed the taste and the flavor of the ice cream…Since there were limited options for refrigerating back then, the Mastani was made in estimated quantities to be sold off by the end of the day. I remember my father often saying that they had to sell all of the produce for the day and have the leftovers for dinner,” said Kondhalkar.
Sujata Mastani started with three primary Mastani flavors: rose, khus and pineapple. Soon, they started incorporating seasonal fruits with mango being the highlight of summers and strawberry, of winters. Today, across around 35 outlets in the district, Sujata Mastani has a menu boasting 19 flavors and is undoubtedly a household name.
“Around the early 1980s, canned mango pulp became available and the flavor could be shelved. Customer tastes also evolved with typical ice cream flavors of kesar, pista, vanilla, butterscotch, tootie fruity and chocolate becoming flavors for Mastani too. The custard apple (sitafal) has also gained popularity in the last decade or so,” added Kondhalkar.
Once a drink associated with Pune summers, the advancement of technology has meant that Mastani is now available throughout the year. Yet, the rich, smooth summer beverage is blended with the charm and memories of the good old days of Pune. “People, especially residents of the old city, are very nostalgic and sentimental about the things that originated in the city and hence are very fond of them. If anyone has people over, they will make it a point to have a Mastani,” said Naidu.
“Mastani is a thing one now associates with happiness, to mark joyous occasions, especially during the festival season and weddings. It is a people’s drink from ‘Poona’, invented by them, appreciated by them and loved by them,” added Kondhalkar.