Quenching the thirst of several generations, Ved Prakash Lemonwale, a quaint shop in Chandni Chowk, boasts customers from various walks of life
Ved Prakash Lemonwale, a nondescript shop in Chandni Chowk, opposite the Town Hall, Old Delhi, beckons old and young, men and women, singles, couples and families alike to try out its famous banta, a lemon-drink locked in Codd-neck bottles by a marble.
Cheeni Bhai, the third-generation proprietor sitting in the shop, true to his name, drips sweetness in his behaviour towards all his customers. Assisted by his younger sibling Chetan Bhai, he claims his shop is 150-years-old. The outlet was started by his grandfather, Pyarelal, who sold lemon sherbet in kullars (clay tumblers) along with paan (betel leaf). This was very popular among the denizens of the Old Delhi. Following him, his younger brother, Chunnilal continued to cater to the patrons. Later, Cheeni’s father Ved Prakash took over and in 1970 the sale of paan was discontinued. And with it started a choice circle of people who only downed Lemonwale’s drink, never any popular cola.
The shop is peculiar; the owner is at the ground level taking orders and accepting cash, and a small basement is visible with crates full of lemonade bottles. At the upper level there are boys who empty the banta into a glass, squeeze fresh lime and add masala (which includes kala namak and jeera) in it. This is ‘lemon nimbu masala wali’ priced at Rs.15 served with or without ice; the bottled drink is for Rs.10. The family truly believes in the vertical integration of business.
The bottled drink is manufactured in a factory run by Cheeni’s brother, Shankar Bhai, with the entire production dedicated to the family shop. The masala – whose preparation Cheeni refused to divulge — is made by the owners.
The drink is a great favourite of local residents, shoppers who need to refresh themselves after hectic shopping at the busy Chandni Chowk, students and passers-by. “The drink is a great hit with youngsters and foreigners. In fact college students enjoy it and film the activity at the shop on their mobile phones,” says Cheeni. Though his son has started helping him since 2010, he is not interested in expanding the business due to the escalating cost of lemons, labour and other inputs. The daily turnover depends upon the weather and season, and, predictably, the searing Delhi summers set the cash register ringing.
The shop is open throughout the year and during the festival period he keeps it open till midnight and beyond. “During Ramzan the shop is kept open till midnight to serve the Muslim brethren,” said Cheeni. Unlike many shopkeepers, he does not boast about great personalities visiting his shop and says, “I serve common folks and their praise, love and affection is self-rewarding.”
Cheeni reserves a surprise for us as we are about to bid goodbye to him — ‘the masala wala soda’, priced at Rs.15. The bottled drink, manufactured at the family factory, has a chatpata taste and is served with lemon and masala. Although this is very good for digestion, it is preferred by few clients, he says. So the next time, before and after shopping at Chandni Chowk, enjoy at least one of the varieties.
Sachin, software engineer and a resident of Janakpuri has been coming to the shop regularly for the last six years. He was introduced to this drink by his Mamaji, back when it was for Rs.5. This time he brought his aunt Bhawna from Mumbai who described the nimbu masala in the Mumbai lingo as “mast”. Though the drink is available in the financial capital too, this one tasted different, she says.
Deepak and Shivam, father and son from Dehradun, enjoy the drink till the last sip. Deepak, who owns an optician shop, was introduced to the lemonade by his father and has been visiting the outlet for the last 20 years. Shivam is a science student in 12th standard. “Whenever I am in Delhi, I definitely visit this shop and have at least two glasses,” he says.
Pramod Jain who earlier resided in Chandni Chowk remembers the shop from his childhood days. In fact he joined the Dena Bank branch situated on top of this shop and used to enjoy lemonade three to four times a day as it was priced at Re.1 during those days.
Sisters Shweta and Shivani, students of 12th and 10th standard respectively, of Ramjas School, Daryaganj, stood quietly enjoying their drink. “When we were young, our father used to bring us here. Now, of course, we come on our own,” says Shweta adding that they enjoy the lemonade and never buy from anywhere else.
Shabnam Khanam and son, Mohammad Abeer, were greeted warmly by Cheeni Bhai. Her family has been residing in Ballimaran since the 1940s. Shabnam, a graduate from Delhi University says: “My ammi (mother) used to bring me here. Though we make lemonade at home it does not match up to the taste.”
“I feel very much at home in this area and in this shop as the owners have seen since my childhood,” she adds.