Friday, November 14, 2014

Baba ... Black Sheep?

I don’t like to make any comments on ‘godmen’, spiritual leaders or faith healers. There are believers and there are sceptics. Baba Ramdev, who came into the limelight some years ago, has attracted enough attention from each category.  Apart from lessons on spirituality, yoga and faith healing, the Baba ran a line in traditional medicine. The medicines (like Baba) became a rage and soon news channels on TV were afire with the story that they contained traces of crushed human bones. It takes more than a scandal or two to destroy a success. The noise died down the way it always does.
Baba Ramdev has been called a rogue, a charlatan and a Casanova. He tried his hand at politics, but he made a quick exit. You can read about it here and on Wikipedia.
The Baba hasn’t made news in some time now. It turns out he makes much more.
Last year when my daughter had come home from Delhi she was on the lookout for a ‘Patanjali’ shop here in the Dooars (the tea growing region of North Bengal).  Patanjali, she informed us, sells a range of products including soaps and toiletries made with natural ingredients and free from harmful chemicals. And it is owned by Baba Ramdev.
My husband laughed outright. ‘Powdered bones,’ he said.  I didn’t want to take sides, and I kept my thoughts to myself.  My daughter had brought home a bar of Patanjali  ‘Multani Mitti’ (Fuller’s earth) soap.  It looked good, in that it really looked like clay, and it smelt wonderful. I washed my face with it after she asked me to give it a shot, and I was ‘converted’.  Now this is the dangerous part when the reader begins to think this is an ad, after all.

 I expected to see a price tag of Rs.85/- at least, because that is what fancy ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’ soap bars sell for. This one was priced at Rs. 35/-. An ‘I told you so’ hung unspoken in the air.
Now, scepticism gone, we went in search of a Patanjali shop. To our surprise, there was one in Hamiltonganj, a small town close to the tea garden where we lived at the time. The shop had a stock of Multani Mitti and much more, including biscuits priced at Rs.10/- for 100 gms. Those biscuits were fresh and crisp. The ‘Neem Kanti’ soap at Rs. 13/- for the bar - around half the price of a standard bar of soap-  was even better than the Multani Mitti. One single use was enough to convert the husband.

   The gentleman at the well-stocked Alipurduar Patanjali let me take pictures.

I found it absurdly delightful that there was an outlet in Hamiltonganj, but there is one in Hasimara too, and that is an even smaller town. After my eyes were opened, I’ve seen shops all over the Dooars: in Binnaguri, Jaigaon and Alipurduar, in Mal Bazar, Chalsa and Oodlabari, all small towns dotting the countryside around tea gardens. Every shop has a large poster of Baba in orange robes with arm outstretched, as if calling out to customers while blessing them.  
We found an outlet close to my sister’s home in Chennai too, and we’d thought the Baba only ruled in areas where Hindi is spoken!
The shampoo and hair oil are every bit as good as the soaps and I’m saving money on these purchases as well as my dishwash and detergent bars. All our old brand loyalties have gone out the window. It’s simple: Patanjali provides  quality products at reasonable prices. Instead of pitching the product at a high price for the privileged few, it chooses to attract the common man – or the thrifty woman.              
There is one outlet in our part of the Dooars – no names - where we stopped to stock up last month. A shop assistant packed our stuff while his boss was busy dispensing medicine, advice and attention to a group of women who were hanging on to his every word. He had a good supply of words in at least three of our local languages: Nepali, Bengali and Hindi. His audience was giggling and shrieking with enjoyment. When my husband went up to pay for our purchases, he took the money and handed him his change without a break in the patter.
Make no bones about it, soft soap sells.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Garden Party

Our cold weather garden has been nothing short of a celebration this year. I'm like that lucky hostess who does nothing but enjoy herself at her own party. Our malis are all novices and this is their first success. They are overjoyed at what they have achieved. For them, yes, this is a real garden party.

You know that feeling when you arrive at a celebration that every one has been looking forward to for ages. There's a sense of disappointment when things don't pick up. Well, that's what it was like at first. We had our share of stragglers and latecomers and we almost gave up waiting. Our marigolds took their own time. It was the same with our dianthus, sweet williams and antirrhinums.  Once they arrived it was a riot, and everyone forgot how worried and disappointed we’d been. The party was in full swing once they all got into the act.   

Then there was the flamboyant brigade - the dahlias and the gerberas. They were the stars from the beginning; all admiring eyes went towards them. The phlox were like those people who form groups with the like minded and chatter and sparkle among themselves. Phlox always look so happy, running riot in their chosen area, all bright and lively.

The gatecrashers at our party were made most welcome; last year's blue eyed daisies popped up unplanned and spread light and loveliness here and there. You'd actually think we'd placed them carefully. They are great at mingling, those friendly creatures. Ditto with the californian poppies.

Our garden has a little something for everybody.  There are plenty of intoxicants, even though the party is drawing to a close. There are sights, sounds and smells that can transport you to another plane altogether. There is plenty of food too, if you are the kind of person who appreciates food for thought.

I must mention the special guests; they were driven here from my friend Jayati's bungalow one evening, all ready to go straight to the beds prepared for them here. Some muscians flew in from the North in all their finery. The one with brilliant red and black feathers stole the show. The musicians have departed, and our 'local talent' has started screeching raucously, practically monopolising the mike. 

And now we have the debris that starts collecting at the end of festivities. You start seeing it out of the corner of your eye when the bash is in full swing. Dead leaves are gathering everywhere and the boys have their hands full sweeping them up. Soon we will be left with photographs, memories, and loads of cleaning to do. And after we've thanked and congratulated all the people who worked so hard, it will be time to plan our next party. One of the chief summer attractions is already in place: the solitary tokay lizard has returned to his tree. He announces his presence every evening with a few 'tokay's. We're relieved he is back; we thought poachers had got him at the beginning of the cold weather. 

Cicero said that if you had a garden and a library you had everything you needed. Give me a life of the senses: all I need is the garden for now.