Veteran Cartoonist Gopulu, well known among Tamil readers for his evocative and humorous cartoons passed away recently at the ripe old age of 91. He was popular for his cover cartoons in Ananda Vikatan and Diwali special issues of many Tamil magazines. May his soul rest in peace.
I recently came across one of his famous cartoons depicting the scene of a typical Tambrahm household where a child is being persuaded to take castor oil, which brought back memories of this ritual from my own childhood.
Castor oil, a bitter, gooey and foul smelling oil was the “grandma” remedy for all stomach related problems. All the members of our family had to undergo the ritual of consuming this concoction, once every six months on on a Sunday morning. While some of the adolescents among my four siblings sometimes managed to escape the ordeal, the smaller kids had no choice. The previous night my mother would brew a special `Kashayam` consisting of some herbs . On the appointed morning, two drops of pure castor oil would be added to this `Kashayam` in a tumbler and we would be asked to drink it. Invariably the kids would hold the tumbler at an `arms distance` and make all kinds of faces before gulping down the repulsive concoction, holding our noses tight! If the younger kids threw tantrums and refused to imbibe the liquid, then my father would take charge. He would hold the kid on his lap, while my mother forced the liquid down the throat of the kid using a small ‘Gindy `(a silver cup with a beak), with drops of the liquid dribbling down the mouth.
After an hour the concoction would start having its effect. With a rumbling stomach all the kids would make a beeline to the toilet one after the other- to evacuate the accumulated junk and dirty bile collected in their stomachs overthe previous six months. Of course, there would be a fight over the use of the toilets as some kids would take inordinate time to come out while the others would be waiting impatiently with crossed legs and twisted arms, trying very hard to control the urge to evacuate immediately.
If one of the kids showed no sign of any activity then he/she would be asked to get on to a stool and jump six or seven times to activate the stomach. If even that effort failed then the concerned kid would be forced to go through the ordeal again the following Sunday
At the end of the ordeal all the kids would be exhausted and ravenously hungry. All ready to pounce on the special diet, served hot. The menu would consist of Jeeraga Rasam, Paruppu Thogayal (Lentil Chutney), and Chutta Appalam (roastedpapad). Sometimes a limited quantity of raw banana poriyal would be also served and I always used to look forward to the special menu served on that day
Another ritual that we kids were forced to undergo was the mandatory weekly Oil bath! My mother would heat up the gingely oil in a bowl. She would then make us sit on a Palagai (a wooden plank) and apply a generous helping of the oil to the head first, gently but firmly massaging the head.After that the oil would be applied all over the body. The grown up kids would have to apply the oil on their bodies, on their own. Dripping with oil, we would have to hang around for an hour, so that the oil seeped into the skin to make it glow later! All of us standing in our undergarments with oil oozing, was a sight to behold!
Later the kids washed off the oil using hot water and shikakai powder. In the absence of Shampoo those days, soap was used in addition to Shikakai powder.
Grandmas believed that while the Castor oil helped `service` the stomach once in six months, the oil bath ritual helped to keep the whole body system cool and the skin glowing. In the South, especially in Tamilnadu, ladies are even now known to apply a generous dose of turmeric powder on their faces on the oil bath days (invariably on Fridays) believing that it would make them look fairer. Instead they walk around the streets looking like patients with jaundice!
It is a pity that the modern day kids are denied the benefits of such periodic rituals! Not only were they of therapeutic value but also brought the whole family together like on a festival day.
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