Long before patents, attorneys, inter country fights about neem and turmeric, and much before I could even spell Ayurveda, Neem was known to me.
It was about the leaves found in our hot bath water, particularly after an entire set of us cousins in the family house got chickenpox.
It was about noticing dried leaves in the packets of rice that were packed after paddy was dehusked by hand-pounding in our garage . My folks ate only hand pound (threshed in a set up in the garage ) unpolished rice, untouched by machine, and dried neem leaves were interspersed into each packet to keep insects at bay. And no one really bothered about a stray leaf that made its way into a cooked rice occasionally.
It was about mornings, teeth brushing, and folks in the family chewing on a twig of the Neem tree, watching us kids do our sophisticated toothbrush and toothpaste act. I tried it once , didn't like it at all, but developed great respect for those who did the chewing.
It was also about the Indian New Year, and the traditional eating of fresh neem leaves with jaggery. Jaggery was welcome, and it was not easy to avoid the leaves under the watchful parental eyes. Today, times have changed, and the watchful eyes belong to me.
And then there were the typical teenage days . These were before the lotion and moisturizer era, and ambehaldi and besan scrubs at bath times, were the order of the day, with fresh malai doing the honors in winters. Folks swearing by the results of applying neem leaves paste on skin eruptions, and using special neem oils. A few folks had what was termed an Acne problem by older folks, and elicited a "Eww..." from those seeing it at close quarters, and mothers religiously rustled up neem and turmeric pastes and stuff for daily use by these folks.
When I had my own dwelling, I planted a neem sapling outside my kitchen window, and it grew fast and tall just like a gangly teenager , where nature might schedule lateral expansion to a later date. To my immense regret, someone , convinced that it was blocking their breeze, had it cut down, and the stump treated to die, when i was away for a longish period. Sign of the times ?
Since then I have often thought about Neem, our society, the eruptions that happen therein, why they happen, and how there need to be Neem-like personages or Neemlike attitudes so that life might improve . As an anti bacterial, anti fungal, a pesticide, and even a mosquito repellent, it defines the qualities we look for, to improve those causing violent eruptions in the society in which we live, and the problem today has been that trees themselves, like the one I planted , are being killed.
Earlier societies had a pace that encouraged holistic living. Diets in consonance with seasons and soils. Efforts from first principles, as opposed to quick and fast shortcuts. A respect for what useful knowledge came down to us from years of successful application.
What was , in my childhood referred to as आजिबाईचा बटवा or Grandmother's Medicinal Pouch, is being touted as a new thing, What is missing is the native knowledge regarding native plants, and simple methods of combining things that increase the bioavailability of these things in our bodies.
So we make do with what we have.
The good thing is that today, Neem products, scientifically prepared, are available in many forms, such as oil, leaf extracts, soaps, scrubs, etc. Some companies, have woken up and incorporated these into creams and lotions that one may use on one's skin, in a well defined manner. Garnier Fructis folks have , in a unique Indo Australian combination, come up with a cream face wash with extracts of Neem and Tea Tree Oil, the last being a native Australian medicine. It is called Garnier Pure Active Neem. There are suggested application frequencies, projected success rates, and hopefully it all works to display some joy on your face....
A life where a careful crushing and hand grinding of Neem leaves on a clean chutney stone or mortar and pestle, has now regressed into a quick squeeze of something from a tube on to a face. It s a case of having the knowledge and not having the time.
Perhaps we are coming full circle. Perhaps there is something to the type of cures we took for granted.
Like rushing with an onion to stick it under some one's nose, when a nosebleed happened; or holding a much walked chappal/shoe under some one's nose to teach the vagus nerve a lesson it never forgets, when someone faints.
Or wrapping some ajwain seeds tied in a muslin cloth and lightly roasting on a griddle to make someone inhale the fragrance, a great way to clear blocked noses....
And lets simply not mention a terrible looking thing called poultice that was about a bunch of kitchen foods stirred in black cast iron kadhais and applied on injuries which were then wrapped in gauze, which always leaked some of it, causing immense embarrassment in school.
Perhaps, Mr Garnier and Mr Fructis will come up with Onion Sprays.
Perhaps they will come up with nosestrips with Dirty-Chappal fragrance.
Yes. And what about poultice in a tube that hardens on application ? Ykes.
Perhaps, the height of it all will be microwaveable pouches with ajwain seeds that you heat and hold to your nose in a fancy pouch.
I am not amused.
Should this eventually happen, just remember that you first heard about it here....
(Submitted as an entry to the Indiblogger-Garnier Pure Active Neem Contest.)