Usacha Ras

by Ashish

Or sugarcane juice, or ganne ka ras. Call it what you will… have you ever had it?

Back when I was a kid, the arrival of summer was heralded by two things. One was an injection that I had to have before summer truly set in. I don’t remember which injection this was, but I do remember that it would invariably set off a mild fever that lasted for maybe half a day.

The other, the carrot to the stick that was the injection, was permission to have sugarcane juice. In fact, Appa (my grandfather) would come home with a lot, really a lot, of sugarcane juice on the Day Of The Injection. And he and I and the rest of the family would sit on the steps of our home and have sugarcane juice in the late evening.

This would officially mean the end of mean old exams and the start of glorious, lazy summer. But more about that later.

Sugarcane juice shops in Pune are generally ramshackle affairs. The shop and the benches are painted blue… the kind of blue that you can only know if you’ve seen it. There’s a framed picture of some deity or the other, garlanded with a rapidly wilting collection of flowers. A very dilapidated table, adjacent to which is a sugarcane press that was made around the time Eve was dishing out apples. The press has a little incline which leads on to the table, on which is kept a vessel which collects the sugar cane juice, after it’s been strained.

On getting an order from customers who step into the shop, the press swings into action. Two, maybe three sticks of sugarcane are fed through the press, taken out from the other end, and pressed again. Folded once, they are fed again. Juice flows out onto the incline, and is collected in the strainer. The process is repeated many a time, until you are convinced that no juice exists in that ragged pulp. Still, the owner knows more than you do, and he extracts a last drop by running that pulp through the press one final time.

A squeeze of lemon, some crushed ice and a dash of salt. Depending on whether you’ve asked for a half glass, a full glass or a jumbo glass, you’re dispensed a measure of that thirst slaking nectar.

And you are a rare specimen indeed if you don’t ask for seconds.