Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Times, They Are A'Changin!

My daughter Puja and I were at the Command CSD Canteen, and I was lamenting the non availability of `Imperial Leather’, my preferred bathing soap.

“You still use SOAP?” she cried incredulously, making the word `soap’ sound like a four letter word (I know it is, but you know what I mean). “Pa, who uses SOAP (there again, the same sound) these days?”

I glanced around the aisle, ran my eye over the three whole shelf rows choc-a-bloc full of the offending item, and was just about to answer “Well, just about everybody”, when she yanked my arm and dragged me to another counter.

“Here!” she said, grabbing a fancy looking tube from another counter, “use this!”

The label on the collapsible tube said `Shower Gel', and I wondered how on earth it could replace a healthy bar of soap which one could (and did) vigorously rub all over one’s torso. At the risk of sounding an ignoramus, I asked her how one used the stuff. She rolled her eyes heavenwards, and gave me the look one normally reserves for mentally challenged six year olds, and sighed “With a loofa, pa!” 

The shower gel, she explained, was not for the face – for that she picked up another smaller tube called a `face wash’. It was my turn to roll my eyes skywards.

As kids, all we had at home were two basic soaps – a hefty red `Lifebuoy’ bar for bathing, and an even bigger yellow one for washing clothes. The richer kids used Lux, the `soap of the film stars’, which accounted for the fact that they always smelt (or so we thought) a bit like pansies. The Lifebuoy, on the other hand, smelt exactly like what it was billed as – a germicidal. I finally gave up on it only when I saw it being used as a hand wash in the Zoology lab in College, and all the girls (the ones that mattered anyway) crinkling up their noses in disgust at its offensive presence in their lives.

We Army guys, our preferred brands of toiletries (disparagingly referred to as `saaboon-tel’) is normally limited to whatever is available in the CSD Canteen! After Lifebouy, I tried all sorts, including the Karen Lunal inspired Liril. Check out the ad – the sight of the bikini clad Karen cavorting under a waterfall sold me quite a few cakes of Liril in the 80’s. Had to give it up hastily when a pretty young thing asked me why I always reeked so strongly of nimbu pani!

Call me archaic, but I still shave with an old fashioned double-edged razor blade, till recently used a cup soap - migrated to shaving cream after my brother complained that my bathroom smelt like a barber shop, and regularly use talcum powder. Yes, TALCUM POWDER – kar lo jo karna hai!

My son, on the other hand, alternates between shaving gels and foams, uses a Gillette Fusion razor, and has a set of colognes, after shaves, perfumes and deodorants that would be the envy of Priyanka Chopra! To be fair, he is way way too conservative when compared to my son in law, who takes the cake, icing et al. Being metro sexual is one thing, but Sukh is just a product or two short of having his own show in Vegas!

Shampoo entered my life just a couple of years ago – earlier it was plain Shikakai soap. The kids have separate shampoos, conditioners and hair products even your hair didn’t know existed! Sukh has now come upon an `All-in-one’ - shampoo, conditioner, face wash and shower gel – which he can use from head to toe. Of course, you can watch the entire season of `Homeland’ by the time he emerges from the shower!

My nephew Rohit was much the same. After a shower, he’d sprinkle an entire can of talcum powder over his expansive frame, and would then stomp all over the house leaving his trademark Size-11 footprints in stark white in every room. We called his showers `maha mast abhishekams’, and I once seriously suggested he use milk instead of water!

We are a nation of washers, not wipers – which is our biggest bane during our trips abroad. Here too, times have changed. The brass `lota’ gave way to the `mugga’ once we entered the age of plastic, and then of course the hygiene faucet (inexplicably called the `muslim shower’ in some quarters) caused a paradigm shift in our morning rituals. What a cataclysmic change that was!

And post the act, like Macbeth, when we need to wash the `guilt’ off our hands, we now have an obscene range of liquid hand washes to choose from - of all fragrances, colours and viscosities. Not for me, however, the ghastly `hand sanitisers’ that the modern lass carries in her handbag (along with pepper spray and a .22 pistol, if she happens to be in Delhi). I tried one once, and found I needed to wash my hands immediately after, since the sanitiser left my hands feeling gooey (`chip-chip’ if you know what I mean)!

The ubiquitous yellow `shining cloth’ we used to brasso our stars and shine our ammunition boots with is now passé. We have separate micro fiber cleaning cloths for every surface - laptop screens, glassware, and even for spectacle lenses! But believe me, if you really want a sparkling shine on any surface, nothing, just nothing beats an old baniyan!

As a kid, I had to hide my Brylcreem from a dad who insisted on `khopre-ka-tel’. Now, I guess I’ll have to hide a bar of soap from my daughter in favour of a tube of shower gel! 

For years, it was our parents who dictated our choices. Now it is our children. The times, sure, they are a changin’!


  1. Wonderfully true and subtly narrated...

    The mod uncle in those days used cantherdine hair oil and Lux soap while we used desi coconut oil and Chandrika (then available only in Kerala) soap. There is a tube of shaving gel in my bathroom cabinet, lying there, I guess, for more than a year. I do not know how to use it. Before, during or after; If ‘during’ do I use a shaving brush or not…..so many questions, so I let it lie there.

    When I was young, my father warned me “Son, be careful with your cycle on the streets; watch out for speeding cars and buses”. Now my wife warns me when I take out the car “Be watchful of the cycles (and motorcycles) on the roads”

    Yes; times, they have changed…but then THAT is the characteristic of time....which is really identified only by 'change' ...a clock is but a scale.....

  2. Wonderfully written I must say. The children dictate what to use and what not to. We are all antique as per them. But let that be as it is we still enjoy our life with the good old things.

  3. well said harish, must say you have been slow and steady in this race "towards the present age". wonder why you never graduated to Pears; at one time the ultimate luxury soap, there was nothing better in the CSD!!

    many of our old habits and things are becoming redundant in this age, one day we will too.... till then we slog on, in our own way and at our speed

  4. Aaaah, for Lifebuoy !! School hostel reeked of it coz all used those, Lux-pansies were hard to come by in a hostel. That red coloured Tata's oil? I think the unusually long wiry hair growth on my legs was probably becos of it ! Mac Cleans for toothpaste no red gels then (No I was not on dantmanjan or dattun, though there were some who vouched for both).
    But I changed very rapidly Harish, and allowed rank consumerism to dictate Old Spice,later Bacchus, imagine this when I wasn't shaving !!
    Times they are a changing true, but I love the change too, with a selective bag of likes in change.


  5. Your inimitable style had me in stitches once again. I learnt how to use a Conditioner in my hair after quite a few hits and misses,And as Vish said,it was Chandrika for me too. Chandrika kept my face pimple free all through college and I still recommend it for teenagers today who for politeness sake accept a cake from me but studiously avoid using it. They have scented alternatives today, I guess.