Amidst cola onslaught, a gallant struggle to save goli soda

V.R. Kanniappan calls Scott and Co. his factory, but all he has are four people, a room and one machine who together make around 700 bottles of goli soda in a day. Hidden amidst a warren of streets in Triplicane, behind a tall green iron gate, are push carts waiting to take these bottles to various parts of the city. Around 30 years ago, these carts would have come back to the factory at least twice a day for a refill. But not today.

For Kanniappan, who runs the company started by Ekambaraya Mudaliar in 1931, everything begins then, and ends now. There were 400 factories then, there are only around four now. The push carts emptied three full loads of goli soda then, today the first cart returns half-full. He made more than ten flavours then; today, even the one flavour that he manufactures finds few patrons. “People who got down from Ambassador cars only asked for goli soda. Today, everyone wants only soft drinks,” he says. Having studied only till SSLC, he learnt his skills on the job.

With each passing day, the path he treads on seems to become increasingly shaky. “After the few of us shut shop, there will be no goli soda in the city,” says Kaniappan glumly. Areas like Periamet, Park Town, Purasaiwalkam, Tiruvottiyur, Triplicane and Mylapore had several small and large units such as L. Robert and Co, Johnsons, and Gemini Soda, he says.

He remembers a time when they started work at seven in the morning, and worked in shifts up until two in the night, because of the robust demand for the drink in shops, outside theatres, at concerts, on the beach and at trade fairs.

“Goli soda would be sold near all the big theatres like Gaiety, Chitra, Shanthi and Plaza. There are people who have built their own houses just by the money they made by selling goli sodas in one theatre. I used to supply to 15 theatres, but stopped a few years ago,” he says, flipping through a bunch of labels in jaunty colours. These are labels of flavours he no longer manufactures, like ginger, cardamom, ice cream soda, orange, lime and pineapple among others.

“Earlier we used to go on 16 routes within a 10 km radius to supply goli soda, now we only go on 4 routes covering two kilometres. Since it is a seasonal business, income primarily comes between May and July. The other months, most of what we earn, goes back into the business,” he says. Cork bottles, he says are cheaper, and shop keepers complain about how the dense goli soda bottle take time to cool in the freezer. “Many shopkeepers do not want it, and ask for cork bottles instead.”

Little has changed in terms of the method and technology. Each morning, fresh syrup is prepared and poured into the bottles through a funnel, and a label is pasted on the dense green and blue bottles with glue made of flour.

The bottles are then lined up on a tray, after which a person fills the bottle with gas and water with the help of the only equipment in the factory. Kanniappan bought several such bottles and says that they are still in use. “You need to hold the bottle the right way to ensure that the marble (goli) allows the filling and then locks the passage so that the fizz is intact,” he says, demonstrating.

But today, few patrons and no support from the government or shopkeepers mean that the fizz, quite literally, has gone out of his business.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 7:45:53 AM |

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