Hidden histories Metroplus

Coimbatore’s Punjabi connection

The Rhythm House family.

The Rhythm House family.

Sait Lakhuram & Sons were general merchants who also dealt with arms and ammunition in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) before the Partition. The firm also manufactured ice and soda in the walled town of Bannu. It was managed by the family of Kuljasrai Khanna. Around the time of World War II, Kuljasrai and his sons — Prakash Lal, Roshanlal, Somnath, BrijMohan and Jagmohan — got an opportunity to run military canteens.

Octogenarian Brij Mohan Khanna remembers moving to Coimbatore at the age of 16 after an arduous rail journey. The family took care of the needs of the Wiltshire regiment (stationed at Pooluvapatti on Siruvani Road) and the Scottish regiment in Dommilipalayam. Brij Mohan used the military vehicles to pick up provisions and other requirements. When the military camps closed after the end of the war, the Khanna family branched off into other businesses. Brij Mohan remembers going back to the NWFP one last time during the Dussera of 1946.

The Khanna family settled down in Coimbatore after partition and the Union Government gave a small property near Variety Hall Road to compensate them for their loss of property in the NWFP. Subsequently they established a string of businesses including the Triplex Drycleaners, Ajanta Cycles and the Rhythm House and Super Crush on N.H. Road by 1949.

While Rhythm House sold and serviced radios, Super Crush produced and distributed a variety of ‘cool drinks’.

The firm used water from the Siruvani to manufacture these drinks. Alum was used to filter the water and essences from Bush Boake & Allen were used as flavouring. Sugar was purchased under the permit system and the glass bottles and caps were from Alembic. Locally made wooden crates were used to store the beverages. Super Crush was one of the earliest to distribute them on tricylces to their clients.

Super Crush was sold at all the petty shops in town and was also available at all theatre canteens. It was supplied to the Madukkarai ACC factory in bullock carts and the Defence Services were also major clients.

The Defence Services tested the samples at their Mysore lab; sent their personnel to spray mosquito repellents at the Super Crush facility; and their doctors would ensure the regular inoculation of the workers.

The drinks were priced at 15 annas per dozen while the sodas were available at 12 annas per dozen.

Brij Mohan Khanna remembers, “We supplied Super Crush beverages to all weddings and it was exclusive at the sporting events in town. We sent our beverages to the Ooty Race Course in the racing season and we made special beverages exclusively for Rai Sahib K.L. Johar’s Sea Lord Hotel in Cochin. In fact we were the first to supply beverages for the first-ever car races held nearly 60 years ago in Sulur. Super Crush was also available at the stores located in the spinning mills in Coimbatore. We celebrated the Silver Jubilee in the 1970s. Our sodas were a favourite in all the political meetings those days.”

In fact Brij Mohan Khanna’s family organised the first Punjabi gathering at Coimbatore on Baisakhi in 1953. “Those days, we used to skate from our house on N.H Road to Attupalam on the concrete road.

This was the first-of-its-kind bridge in India constructed by H.S. Singh. I studied at the Sanathan Dharma School in Bannu. However, I could not continue my education here for our NWFP Education Board was not recognised in the old Madras State. My interest in diving, swimming and hockey on skates made my younger days really interesting. Mine was the first Punjabi wedding in town. The growth of Coimbatore turned me into a construction person and I built many structures for the Defence Services later.”

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Printable version | Jun 29, 2022 10:48:38 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/coimbatores-punjabi-connection/article7715893.ece