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Campa Cola was always a Delhi drink. Bombaywalas had Thums Up, we had Campa. If you pass by the Campa factory in Connaught Place, it looks like a representation of lndia’s dashed isolationist dreams. The windows are broken, the paint is peeling and the sign says “ama”.
But if you look carefully you’ll see a little stand adjoining the factory, at the very end of Shankar Market. No celebrity endorsement poster, no fanfare — just a simple sign and crates of the black stuff. Besides the Campa Lemon and Campa Cola, you also get Campa Orange — both in glass bottles and plastic litres.
Rajeev Varma has been stationed here since 1979. He told us that despite appearances, the old Campa factory is still alive. “The masala is still made here,” he said, “but not everyday — just once a week or so. And the recipe is a secret.”
The drink is now bottled in Hisar, Haryana by Satya Beverages, which bought the franchise a few years ago from Pure Drinks. As before, Campa is predominantly available in North India. Within Delhi, this is the only company store. You might find it at the odd retailer, however this classic cola is an elusive commodity.
Apparently the demand isn’t as low as one might imagine. Campa is consumed with regularity at sarkari canteens. According to Varma, “It is very popular for weddings and other events, being much cheaper than Coke.” At Rs 300 per crate versus Coke’s Rs 425, one can see the merits of swadeshi swaad.
A trip to the old factory opens up a Rs. 8 glass bottle-full of nationalistic nostalgia. Fittingly, Varma also sells his wares at India Gate at night. It’s also charmingly appropriate no attempt the has been made to capitalise on the crumbling building — there’s no tour or board eulogising the location. Perhaps it’s only natural that the Campa factory store sells Coca-Cola as well.
This story was originally published in Time Out Delhi.