Remembrance of things past

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

When I think of my childhood in late middle age, I remember people less vividly than I remember things. I remember scented erasers made of opaque rubber topped with a strip of translucent green. Also a cheaper eraser enigmatically called Sandow. And soap. The history of middle-class India in the 1960s and 1970s can be written in soap and detergent.

Red Lifebuoy was the soap you washed your hands with afterwards. Cinthol (green) was the bar to bathe with except for people with aspirations who bought Moti, a fat round of soap too large for small hands, or Pears. But Pears was posh; any household that routinely used Pears wasn’t middle class; it was the sort of place that bought crates of Coca Cola instead of bottles of Kissan orange squash, where the children went to boarding school and owned complete sets of Tintin.

The only detergent that seems to have survived as a brand is Surf. Not that anyone used the word ‘detergent’ in the 1960s. Surf was detergent: it was the generic word for any powdered soap that came in a box and was used to wash clothes. Nobody had heard of Rin or Nirma; a cheap yellow cake of washing soap called Sunlight was widely used, but it was an inferior thing, used offstage by the hired help, not the housewife.

There was a soap to wash woollens with called Lux Flakes, which smelt nice but disappeared from the market early on. I think our parents liked the thought of collecting petrol-perfumed woollens in giant brown paper bags so much that they were willing to pay Novex and Snowhite a bit extra for that privilege. Dry-cleaning was a way of being modern, smart and confidently middle class. More:

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