A summer day experience in Delhi is not worth writing home about if you haven’t sipped a chilled Banta with sun-baked cheeks
I have thought about this question many times. Why is Banta called Banta? And not Santa? Or for that matter, why not anything else? Well, some have shrugged shoulders at me, some have wondered like I have. But no good answers yet. May be, I have asked all the wrong people. May be, I have to do more of asking around. May be, nobody quite knows it.
Anyway, summer after summer, living in Delhi for the last two decades, I have been sipping the goodness of a Banta without knowing its story of birth. But I have to tell you my first brush with Banta. What first impression it can leave on people if they have grown up not knowing it. My introduction to Banta began with a lot of suspicion. It was a blazing hot summer day in a South Delhi market and I was hailed by a street vendor to try out his fare. “Seven rupees,” he said. I was new to the city, not sure what was he selling. What I found on his cart was a row of glass bottles which looked to me like some used local soft drink bottles filled with water. A few golf-ball sized lemons were balanced on top of some of the bottles, prodding me to take them to be nimbu paani bottles. Back at home in the North East, we have lemons which differ from each other not just in size but in smell too. One for juices, one for a particularly summer day, one to enhance aroma in your food, etc. So obviously, I have had a reason not to think too much of the lemons you find in this part of the country. And then the idea of this sweaty vendor squeezing it for me, fresh and dirty! No!
Well, it took me some more months of saying no to such vendors — at market places, along colony gates, near my office, outside parks, at bus stops, etc. — across Delhi before I discovered Banta, thanks to a colleague. He introduced it as “Delhi’s local drink” and I was intrigued, eager to have a sip. And before I knew it, I was by a roadside, a sweaty vendor squeezed a lemon on to a glass by using a rickety squeezer, in went a spoonful of rock salt before a bottle of Banta was opened on it, stirred and served at once. Boy, it tasted super! I could hear my sun-baked Delhi summer cheeks saying a quiet thank you to me. Well, I also liked seeing a shock of gas (from the soda) springing out of the bottle when the round marble seal was taken off.
Soon I discovered that there are some places you particularly go to in Delhi for Banta, say in Chandni Chowk and near Delhi University. Over the years, I have done them all, loved them all. Just the other day, I paid Rs.30 to a Bantawallah in an NCR colony, had my fill, loved it.
It took me some years though to learn that like in North India, South India too has its Banta equivalent. It is called Goli Soda, goli meaning the marble seal in the bottle and soda is of course taken from what the thick glass bottle contains. It is sold in the same way, as a cheap street drink on a push cart, popular too. Though in my region, it still is called ‘a Delhi drink’ and if you ask me, I love it that way.