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Ah, creamy layer!

The ?creamy layer? has become a metaphor for social and economic divide in India. This is hardly surprising, wites Satish K Sharma.

india Updated: Oct 25, 2006 23:16 IST

The ‘creamy layer’ has become a metaphor for social and economic divide in India. This is hardly surprising. We have a long tradition of being obsessed with cream or its clarified version, ghee.

It has been a symbol of the ultimate wellbeing of a people. Charvak, the sage, who was the proponent of the hedonist school of thought, summed up his philosophy in one shloka: Yavat jivet sukham jivet/ rinam kritva ghritam pibeyat (Be happy as long as you live/ Drink ghee even if you have to borrow for it). Mercifully, he didn’t recommend begging and stealing.

But stealing butter is not such a bad thing in India. Most of us in our childhood have done it and got away with it, thanks to Lord Krishna. When my brothers and I siphoned  off the thick layer of malai from the milk-pot in our mother’s absence, the stray cat would come in handy to put the blame on.

Ghee may sound like a nightmare to a fitness freak, but it remains a favourite of many. Indeed, people are fond of quoting new research in its favour. In Gujarat, where I live, there is a saying: “Surat no jaman. Kashi no maran (It is best to eat in Surat and die in Kashi). A special sweet of Surat is ghaari. It is a kind of pudding, which is nothing but an excuse to eat more ghee.

One of my happiest childhood memories of my village in Rajasthan in the Sixties is about rising from bed to the rhythmic sound of the churning of milk. My grandmother would begin the task in the wee hours. She had to, because she had three sons in the army to whom she had to send canisters full of ghee — the ultimate expression of her motherly love.

Sometimes, I would sit by her side to watch as she churned milk. She was a strong woman, something of an amazon. Her powerful hands handled the churn with amazing ease. The whole exercise was like meditation to her. I had, of course, a more worldly reason for being there — the dollop of fresh butter she would place in my palm. Its taste and flavour are still fresh in my memory.

Unfortunately, ghee was also a symbol of discrimination. A favoruite daughter-in-law was given more ghee to consume during her confinement. And worse, the discrimination was practiced on the basis of the sex of the newborn child. If you gave birth to a son, you were given more ghee to eat.