Written for The Argo by Annie Imran
Cream soda to the average American can be identified with its tang of orange and vanilla sweetness, the drink itself donning an orangish/brownish color. To the average Pakistani however, cream soda comes in a neon green color, flavored like a sweet mixture of rosewater and vanilla. There’s only one name synonymous with cream soda in Pakistan, and that’s Pakola. Although it debuted in the backdrop of the newly born country of Pakistan, the soft drink has come a long way. It now travels overseas, becoming a symbol of home for the diaspora.
Only three years after Independence day was Pakola introduced to the scene by the Teli family, who migrated over to Pakistan as Memons from Surat, Gujarat, during the Partition. In a time of great passion and nationalism, the family built up Pakistani Beverages Limited. Hoping to play their part in forging a new sense of identity and independence, they introduced Pakistan’s first-ever soft drink, which was inspired by the syrup-flavored water sold by pushcart vendors in the summer. Pakola made its debut on August 14th, 1950, at a ceremony hosted by the Air Force Base in Karachi, at which Liaqat Ali Khan, (PK’s first prime minister,) was present.
Despite its competitors being the corporate mega-giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Pakola still performed well in Pakistani markets. The reason for this may be pointed to the patriotic sentiments at the time; the need to celebrate and cherish the country and its newfound independence was intertwined with many of the inspirations and subsequent creations of this time. Pakola’s branding and advertising captured this attitude, which can be accredited to its onset popularity.
Pakistan is a unique country in that its people had to consciously forge their new identity, rather than grow one organically. They had to prove themselves to the world as being independent of 200 years of colonialism, and a lifelong association with India, all while proving their ability to be independent. Pakola was just one of those small attempts to do so.
Although the story of Pakola has its origins in establishing a sense of cohesive identity and belonging to a people of a new nation, today, it is slowly becoming a symbol for overseas Pakistanis who are navigating their own identities. Young members of the diaspora find themselves gravitating toward snacks and drinks from back home; it can be viewed as an effort to connect to the “real” Pakistani experience, one that’s separate from the stories of their fathers and the dishes of their mothers. The idealization of snacks from back home is a form of nostalgia- consuming them constructs memories of immigrant experiences and imagined returns to the homeland. It’s an attempt to strengthen their desi identity after, perhaps for some, neglecting it in favor of their western one instead.
Pakola serves as one of these cultural experiences. Today it is consumed by those impacted by the Pakistani diaspora as a quick nod to their roots and an attempt to establish cultural independence. Pakola’s survival through the test of time is not thanks to its flavor, which is beloved by some and too sweet for others; rather, it is due to its lifelong partnership with the simple attempts of Pakistanis trying to maintain their ethnic identity.
For anyone who wishes to try this drink, it’s available in most Pakistani-American grocery shops. The closest shop to Stockton University’s campuses that carries this drink is Ali’s Grocery, on 1615 Atlantic Ave, Atlantic City, NJ 08401.
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