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So, come Sunday morning, usually once a month, a medium sized steel bowl (katora) full of yoghurt (dahi in Hindi) would appear with a couple of drops of mustard oil in my mother's hand. The two of us would be ordered to march ourselves to the water tank (paani ki tunkee) clad only in our cotton kuchhees (underwear).
Even before my mother sat down on the low wooden stool (chowki) and even before she removed her dupatta (scarf) to settle down to get to her business, the pungent smell of mustard oil would hit my nostrils. I would've done anything to escape the ordeal.
Mummy would scoop out a dollop of curd with her fingers, place it on her palm, rub her palms together and she was ready to go. First stop: the arms, starting at the shoulders, she would rub the yoghurt into our arms, tut-tutting at the dry elbows. Discovering dry patches on our little bodies always renewed my mother's vigour to rub in the yoghurt with added pressure. Legs followed arms, then the toes and the spaces in between the toes that always tickled and the heels, then the back and then the tummy. AND THEN the bit I HATED the most: the face and the hair! Ewww! Ewww! Her four gold bangles would jingle-jangle as the dreaded mustard oil smell came closer and closer to my nostrils: the cheeks, forehead and chin, the neck, behind the ears and then the hair.
We were washed down with warm water and patted dry. Rajma chawal (Kidney beans and rice) was our Sunday meal. By the time we got dressed, my grandfather would be getting ready to eat his lunch outdoors, under the big mulberry tree and we would hear him call out our names to hurry up and get our ghirais (morsels). You see, back then, humans at home started lunch after a chapati had been set aside for the cow (who'd wander up to the metal gate at precisely lunch time) and another for stray street dogs. That was my grandmother's routine. My grandfather ate his lunch after he had fed the first couple of morsels to his two granddaughters, my sister and I and then my brother when he was born. He used to say that his food tasted better after we'd taken 'bhog' (offering). Those morsels are what I'm looking forward to when I meet him in my next life.
Once we moved out of my grandfather's house, bathing with yoghurt stopped. Maybe we were getting old or maybe my mother's depression was getting worse. I don't know.
For a long time, I kept yoghurt bathing a secret I was ashamed of. I didn't want anyone to find out that we had yoghurt baths on Sundays when we were kids; beats me why I thought like that. Because, your skin feels like silk after a yoghurt scrub. Try it, if you don't believe me. Word of caution: the hair smells yoghurty afterward, but it feels so velvety.
Many years later, I came across a short story in Hindi (I think it was grade 7 or 8) called Usne Kaha Tha by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri (1883- 1922).
It's considered to be the first short story in Hindi by some. It's certainly an amazingly written one. I read it when I was 12 or 13, but I remember the character, Lehna Singh and his question to the girl, 'Teri kudmayi ho gayee?' (Are you engaged?) as if I read it only last year.
In this story, Lehna Singh (the protagonist) is asked to fetch yoghurt from the bazaar for his uncle who wants to wash his hair.
That day, I felt normal.
'There's comfort in numbers', a friend recently wrote on facebook. I certainly felt it that day.
I don't bathe with yoghurt any more, maybe I should start. But, I do mix up a face pack with yoghurt that I apply at least once a week. This recipe is the result of many years of applying home-made face packs. This one works for me.
Mix all the ingredients listed below. Apply on face. When it's dry to touch (20-30 minutes), wash with lukewarm water. Pat dry. Smile.
Warning! DO NOT get the door with the mask on--it looks pretty ewww when it's on the face.
Yoghurt: 1 or 2 teaspoons
Instant coffee granules: 1 teaspoon
Turmeric powder: 1/4 teaspoon (if you have fresh turmeric, then grate it and a few drops of its juice should do)
Honey: 1/2 teaspoon
Lemon Juice: 2 drops.
Play around with the consistency and see what suits you best.
Have a glowing Saturday :)