As I look at the multiplicity of the products on the supermarket shelves, I think back to the various products I’ve seen around me in my childhood…I wonder if readers abroad are familiar with some of the brand names…
I remember Binaca toothpaste being a very popular product; in fact, the “Binaca Geetmala” that the brand sponsored, was a hit song parade on radio, and ran for years…I wonder when it started and when it finished…let me google for it… ah,
here it is
I used to listen to the songs on the old Army radio that my father had bought in a scrap sale, and refurbished as a hobby...it was a clunky steel radio with so many knobs, and I never thought of wondering (as I do now) when and in which remote wilderness the radio was used before being scrapped.....and how strong my father's love for electronics was, to make him do this kind of thing as a hobby! He died before the Internet arrived in India, but I'm sure he would have taken to it like a duck to water.
To get back to the subject...several everday cosmetics were :Eyetex Kajal (I think it's still around!), and something called "Afghan Snow". Now, the words bring up the picture of forbidding mountains, with terrorists and Kalashnikovs....! This "snow" (I once secretly opened a bottle of it in my parents' friend's home in Ranchi!) really did look white, but smeared on the skin, didn't seem to do very much...it did vanish, like the "Pond's Vanishing Cream" that was also a popular product then (yes, I do recollect cartoons showing the poor lady's face vanishing as she used the vanishing cream!)
"Zam-Buk" was another widely used product; I gather one had to apply it to catches, and even burns (though I am not sure about that.) Zam-Buk, which I have seen in friends' homes, was a dark gooey substance, I was never tempted to use it!
However, my mother's elder sister in Madurai had a hilarious story of how her husband decided to use either this or Vicks VapoRub (still widely in use!) and got his hands, in the dark, on a pot of "Asha" instead...and woke her up, and she went into hysterics on seeing a husband with a bright-red face! "Asha" (so widely used in every south Indian home I knew, at least!) was a kind of paste that women put on their foreheads, and then applied their sindoor (kumkumam) on. After "Asha" came something called "Shringar" which was a more liquidish paste; it came in many colours...but still, on a hot and humid afternoon, it would drip down my nose in a nasty streak of colour! Thank goodness for the "sticker bindis" when they did arrive! I started using those, and putting the famous "Gopuram" kumkum on them. (Now I hardly use bindis at all.)
Now I feel like sidetracking down the path of "how has the bindi/pottu developed over the decades?"...but will desist, since I want to talk about "Woodward's Gripe Water" which was always given to babies with colic. I never knew what it consisted of, or whether it did help babies.... there was also "Waterbury's Compound" for when you had colds and coughs, and the standard joke was, "What happens when the monsoon lashes your house?", and the answer being, "Waterbury's Compound!"
"Lux" was the "luxury" soap...in fact the campaign, I remember, ran for many years, advertising all the Bollywood (it wasn't called Bollywood then!) film stars, so much so that the soap, in my mind, was always associated with the Hindi film industry! I also remember "Sunlight" and "Lifebuoy" (these never entered our household; we used "Neem", "Hamam", and "Chandrika"....and the good old "vAsanai podi" for when we had "oil baths"!)
The variety of shampoos was not much; a firm favourite was "Tata's Shampoo". It had a lovely fragrance, but did leave a residue....but since the "oil bath" with sheeyakkAi (soapnut powder) often left my hair oily and stringy, I loved shampooing it, because my long, thick (in those days) hair felt like silk....until the next time my mother oiled and plaited it into tight, hard plaits!
Powder? Well, for everyday use, there was the good old "Pond's Dreamflower Talc" (still there!) and we had "Cuticura" and the lovely, light scent of "Cibaca". One of my favourites, however, was "Gokul Santol" powder..and its more expensive variety, the "Sandal powder" which had a larger percentage of sandalwood powder! It smelt heavenly, and certainly mopped up the perspiration in muggy Kolkata summers. My mother, because of her intense perspiration, used some anti-prickly heat powder, like "Nycil".
To go back to the teeth....we also used "Nanjangud" tooth powder regularly. My brother loved the sweet taste and would swallow whole packsts of it if he could (he also loved to eat chalk right through his childhood) and I loved the fact that it made my lips and tongue pink! (lipstick was, of course, forbidden.)
Perfume...the standard was "Tata's Eau de Cologne"; it took me several years to work out what "odekolon" was! Unfortunately, my mother also used it to wet our foreheads during fever, so it never had a great appeal for me. In my teens, the perfume "Charlie" (oh, so strong!) swept through the households of my acquaintance, and I avoided it for a long time!
When I came to
Madras Chennai for the vacations, some of the brand names would puzzle me. I heard of "Radio oil" and wondered where that came from, until I realized that "Radio" was the brand name! I cannot imagine how much of "Dalda" I must have imbibed...it was a brand, but it became a generic name for hydrogenated oil. I'm sure it was very bad for us...but we don't seem to be showing the ill effects!
I think I was very lucky to grow up with not too many cosmetics, not too many products....I've always got by with the following, through the decades:
Lakme Eyeliner and for special occasions, Eyebrow Pencil
Any soap that was being used (my own favourite was Liril Lemon, and Jai which had a lovely jasmine fragrance)
Any shampoo that was being used
I started using deodorant only around the age of 30, I think…and even now, use perfume very sparingly!
Can you imagine a more sparse cosmetic list than that?