In Orissa in Western India they have devised an ingenious village cooling system for liquids. Filled glass bottles are stacked upside down on top of each other in a pit which is lightly filled with earth. Water is then trickled down over them -technology at its most appropriate for villages without refrigeration, or indeed electricity.
But before this newswarms thehearts of intermediate technology buffs it should be added that the system has been developed for cooling bottles of cola. That notorious toothrottinprofitmaking liquid is seeping into the furthest corners of rural India.
It is not however Coca-Cola. Back in 1977, India with a great fanfare turfed out the giant for refusing to divulge its formula and the world looked on astonished. Many also were hopeful. Perhaps India could avoid the damage that had been caused in Africa and Latin America, where mothers bemused by advertising feed their children soft drinks instead of milk.
But the hopes were shortlived - what has actually happened is that the market has expanded. There are now 100 bottling plants producing around 700 million bottles a year. Companies previously intimidated by the awesome reputation of Coke leapt in to fill the gap and then found they had overfilled it. Soft drinks trucks have been rattling around ever since forever seeking new outlets.
Coca-Cola had blazed the trail: giving it away free outside Delhi schools and providing small town stores with free coolers. But now the competition is cutthroat. Stories abound about labour disputes being stirred up in others’ factories; clearing a competitor’s ‘empties’ out of stores and replacing them with your own; even hijacking lorries.
The giants now are ‘Thums Up’ (sic), produced by Parle Ltd. of Bombay and ‘77’ which is produced by the stateowned Modern Bakeries and is named after the historic year of liberation from Coke. Neither tastes much like Coke which is not surprising as neither actually contains cola nut extract. This is not available in India. The caffeine they use to give the corresponding ‘kick’ comes from tea - which is grown in India.
The advertising is familiar. Jean-clad swingers for the urban hoardings, more respectable but equally enviable couples for the rural areas. All this is to the dismay of Delhi nutritionist Thangamma Jacob,who complains that in towns they drink it ‘to the exclusion of water’ and points out the damage it can cause, from eroding tooth enamel to disturbing the digestive system.
Other more healthy bottled drinks based on fruit juice, coconut milk and even fish have been tried. But none is as profitable as the one-rupee carbonated fizz which, aside from its 80 or so sugary calories, has zero nutritional benefit.