Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Traditional and Natural Me :-)

While I clearly, do not have any memories of actually being born and attended to, say , in the first few years of my life, I have a conviction that folks in my house approached modern science from a very sturdy unshakable base of traditional knowledge. 

Looking at things today, more than 60 years later, it feels like I have grown up in a different age.  All the multinationals with their fibs and  lies  regarding faces, fairness, hair, silkiness et all had not yet then  looked at India, Tata's sold an oil shampoo in a most unimaginatively designed bottle, there was no TV, and no one would have filmed my travails and tangles with Shikekai hair washing, even if I had paid them. 

 Tradition was all about doing 30 suryanamaskars and 300 jumps, before you could even sight your breakfast, and never mind that the Sun had invocations for only 12 of them. You could always repeat the invocations :-)   .    It never made a difference if you were a girl. You were probably expected to do them better than your brother

We drank shudh milk. Tea and Bread was persona non grata.  Fresh mung dal khichadi (green chhilka), a spoon of homemade ghee, roasted poha papad, and freshly squeezed orange juice was what we had .  Sometimes we had buttermilk.  Soaps were around, but the mixture of choice while taking baths, was besan and ambehaldi mixed with fresh milk cream, slathered on, and washed off. Vicco fellows were around , but they made only tooth powder then, and turmeric creams didn't exist. Turns out that Dabur introduced the Lal Dantmanjan in 1970, else we would have been using that too.

We ate hand pounded rice, while everyone went ballistic on bright white local Ambemohor rice (that's where I got my aversion to Fair and Lovely :-)), and cribbed that the grains broke while pounding by hand. Cold pressed oil from the Ghanis was easily available then, and there was a permanent assembly line of milk products such as curds,buttermilk,white butter, and ghee , being prepared, in that order.  Seasonal fruit drinks like mango panha, kokum juice, were available in plenty, and although Coca Cola existed,  it was not available on our screens.

Some of my mother's closest friends were 2 sisters, one a Gynaec MD (alloptahic), and one a Vaidya MD Ayurveda. They introduced my mother to the actual recipe for ChyawanPrash from first principles.  This resulted in my brother and I, cleaning and pounding in the balcony, tons of special herbs with complicated names and flavors,  and stuff during school holidays, sometimes joined by friends, my mother sourcing the exact variety of amlas ("dongri" and not the fat juice laden ones), and all of it coming together in a  massive vessel which ended up slowly cooking stuff and being gently stirred, on a coal sigdi in the kitchen.  This Chyawanprash, duly approved by the Vaidya,  was lapped up not only by us, but was in great demand  from relatives and friends, who were duly gifted stuff in special jars every season.  Yes, I know Dabur launched Chyawanprash the year I was born, but I still swear by my mother's  Chyawanprash. 

Health conditions had traditional solutions too.  While a kaadhaa was the standard concoction for coughs and colds, with the dreaded taking-of-the-steam-with-a-towel-on-our-head,  there was a concoction with dried ginger, jaggery, nutmeg and some other ingredients cooked in a cast iron thick vessel, that we were given whenever we had stomach problems. This was so delicious , that we looked forward to someone else having digestion problems at times.  The most disgusting, horrible looking thing , however, was something called poultice, which was heated and prepared using flour, turmeric etc , in the aforementioned cast iron vessel, and applied when hot,  on scraped, cut, and injured knees etc, and wrapped in a bandage; we went off to school, amidst a sometimes unravelling bandage, emerging gooey stuff, and an entire set of classmates pointing at you. There were various oils in my mother's cupboard, and they were judiciously used depending on whether a chest was filling up with mucus, a headache was looming, or some unavoidable growing pains were happening in the lower limbs. Many years later i actually expressed surprise that linseed oil of my childhood was being applied to cricket bats. 

By the time I had my own children, the style of having a special darkened lactating /just-delivered mother's room had disappeared thanks to expensive real estate, and disappearing joint families.  But the standard traditional care for the newborn and the  mother was very much there.  

And so there was an old experienced lady who came by every day, completely cognizant of the fact that both mother and child have had a tumultuous birthing experience; the mother , with her body and mind yet to settle down after a physically traumatic yet happy event , and the child, getting adjusted to the brave new world  which was probably overpowering its senses.  There was a dedicated massage for the baby, with special attention to the fontanel on the scalp, and the limbs, being careful around the navel, still smarting from the umbilical cut.  There was a huge metal dish shaped container with lit charcoal, on which certain herbs were strewn, which on sublimation, generated some medicinal smoke. Inhalation of this was beneficial to the still coming-to-terms respiratory and digestive systems of the child.  The massage for the mother involved different actions for different parts of the body,  and actually served  to bring together again, all those physical and mental entities, that had worked overtime and were kind of scattered and fatigued post delivery.  Even the bathing had a system. Food was light, nutritious, and designed to benefit the baby, while shoring up the resources of the mother.   

Today, times have changed, and it is difficult for people to source such expert massage ladies and even the various Ayurvedic herbs that are used. Small crowded residences do not make it easy to have special dedicated rooms for all the activities of the mother and child.  Except, maybe in smaller towns and cities, where distances are shorter, people have more time, and there are more human resources available.

And so it makes sense for those having expertise, to make available oils and stuff that already have within them the ingredients. As they say "Sanskarit Oil". Dabur has amongst its many products the Lal Tail which contains Till Tail, Ratanjyot, Shankha Pushpi, Camphor and Urad. All designed to improve blood circulation, sleep, nourish muscles and bones, and prevent skin infections.  Those, worldwide,  researching neonates and their health, have found that this massage aids greatly in the way the child handles stress , and the associated hormones.  

Today's generation  is spoilt for choice. Every health condition or beauty query leads to a massive set of products that offer solutions.  Many look nice and attractive, but often contain harmful chemicals that mislead you with the foaming and smell and feel.  There are products available in the unorganized sector , that have a blatant disregard for quality and include  harmful ingredients in non trivial amounts.  And there is a pill for every minor health skirmish, when actually, some change of habits and sensible food would suffice.  

All kinds of massages and facials are touted as beauty treatments with outlandish costs. Diet is designed and recommended so that you are in competition with size zero beautiful filmy folks, and folks attach undue importance to the shape of their teeth and size of their nose, losing all their individuality, as they get sculpted plastically.  

When you get to be my age (64)  you realize that it is better to have a natural growth, with a decent traditional diet and habits which are in constructive interference with your environment , age and genetic tendencies.  And so you look back to traditional solutions to health, food and stress-relieving.

There are often stories about magical massages ; and I didn't believe many, till I was told this story about a person, who I know very well, and who himself confirmed this story.

 A relative , who is shortly turning 80, was born with a foot deformity. I do not know what it is called, but his toes would curl in and touch his heels. His mother, then at her parents' in Pune, post her delivery, was urged by folks to visit a very well known ayurevdic masseur-gentleman who was popularly known as Maharaaj Limaye, who had many successes to his credit. She did visit him with the baby , for many sessions, and by and by , he taught her the specific massage with the oil to be done for the child daily, since she didn't normally live in Pune and would soon be returning to her marital home in Gujarat. She continued to do the massage as directed, and the child's deformity was totally cured before the year was out. I was told about this by the mother herself.

(It might be interesting to know that the descendants of Maharaj Limaye, also imbibed the art and technique of doing this special oil massage. They were all educated folks like lawyers etc, and their father had told them, that this special gift of being able to give successful massage , was a social service, and was not to be used as a livelihood profession.  The various members would return from a full day at court , and then attend to long lines of people waiting to see them for the massage.)

And so, it is not just about the massage techniques, or the secret uniqueness of the oil. It is about having the correct mental approach, the dedication , the expertise, and a gratitude and respect for one's special gifts.

Physical and mental health in complete equilibrium with each other.   What Ayurveda is all about.

(submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger -Traditional Knowledge-Natural Growth contest.) 


  1. I am going to include this in my trousseau chests I am preparing for my daughters. I am sure they will cherish it! :)

  2. I love what you wrote here as I think traditional Indian and Chinese medicines are more about maintaining a healthy balance to the body than treating it after it develops. Western medicine might do well on the treatment after imbalance but why not deal with it before it gets there as much as possible. I have a couple of books on Ayurveda but tend to forget about it all most of the time until something is out of whack. Some of the body movements like 'holding up heaven' *guessing at the exact name* my husband always swears by to build circulation in the body.

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  4. I do yoga every morning
    My son teaches it in Thailand
    The exercise chart
    I do most
    many mornings.
    but still have to start day with this :)

  5. I love that picture of massaging the baby.. brings back so many wonderful memories. Recently, working with people who are involved in research regarding cancer cure, I learnt that our Ayurvedic and traditional methods have answer to many ailments. We need to develop more respect for our ancestors.

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