Once upon a time, eating Nanjangud hallu pudi

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E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Our grandparents mostly used neem twigs to give a brisk rub-in to their teeth first thing in the morning. This simple device was good enough to keep their teeth clean and sparkling for almost their entire lifetime.

They ate anything from ragi mudde to jowar bhakri and chicken, pullangai unde to dink laadu.

Despite these rigours, their teeth used to be like The Wall—strong, reliable and always ready to tackle what the opposition threw at them all day. Most of our ancestors even capped their sumptuous meal by chewing the juice of a betel nut or doing a small ceremony with betel leaves, sunna and sugandhi betel nut powder.

Teeth, thus nurtured and nourished, lasted years. Tooth ache? There was always a dash of soothing lavang (clove) oil massage to calm the nerves.

They had never heard of a species called the dentist.

Then came charcoal powder, B.V. Pandit’s sweet and pinkish tooth care wonder “Nanjangud hallu pudi” in a 4-inch by 3-inch brown paper bag. You made a small, triangular hole in the corner and inverted it on your palm to pour out only that much quantity for a one-time brushing.

If a bigger heap fell out, you just ate a part of the pudi!

Using the forefinger as a brush, one stroked the power to the left and right of the mouth, brushing the teeth and strenghtening the gums at the same time. Left, right. Left, right, it went on. There were some who went on like this for ages till their mothers shouted at them to ‘stop’ it! A dash of water, rinsing and one was ready for filter coffee.

Still not many knew who or what a dentist was because he/she had yet to appear on the horizon.

Next came the era of toothpaste. Dazzling tubes with colorful caps which squirted white, red, coloured and sometimes stripes of paste! Binaca, Colgate, Kolynos, Forhan’s (“Doctor’s Toothpaste!”) without ‘jhag’ (lather).

The marketing of Binaca was done by Ameen Sayani’s ‘Binaca Geet Mala’, which the whole country heard on radio on Wednesday nights between 8 and 9, irrespective of which toothpowder or paste one used, or whether one brushed the teeth at all.

Dinner used to be after the buglers sounded the song of the week based on the 78 RPM records of Hindi film songs sold in Bombay during the week.

After toothpastes came the marketing blitzkrieg on toothbrush. Hard, medium, soft, conical, comical bristles would take care of your teeth. You could vigorously brush the enamel on your teeth to certain death.

Around that time, some doctors who, for some strange reason called ‘Dentists’ were spotted near the market area.

Soon, with the advent of peppermints, toffees and chocolates, they started multiplying like, well, flies on a sweet. As imported and local fancy chocolates entered the scene with silver and gold wrappers, dentists started opening their swanky shops complete with water jets, spittoons and high speed jets for both water and hot-air.

People casually started dropping words like “I have an appointment with my dentist” in the middle of a conversation.  “Excuse me; I have to see my dentist.” The dentist replaced your tooth with a gold, silver, even a diamond tooth like a diamond ear-ring depending on the bulge of your purse.

Models smiling from ear-to-ear for no reason and doctors in front of tooth cutouts started appearing on TV forcing Babloos and Chintus to smile, again, for no reason.

Soon after, electric tooth brushes arrived, enabling busy people to brush their teeth with a whirr, just like they shaved with an electric shaver. You could get a shining sparkling set of teeth not by old fashioned brushing, but by electrolysis which simultaneously made a big hole in your pocket.

You could keep on X-raying your errant tooth till, by the sheer dosage, your tooth could get tuberculosis.

Now like the software scenario, the toothpaste bubble seems to have burst. Leading orthodontists are now saying electrolysis weakens the gums and is dangerous to the heart. Oral scientists and orthopantomographists are saying grandma’s methods like brushing with fingers and using neem twigs are best and it is the best way of taking care of your teeth!

The future, thank god, is going back to the past!

Rahul (in picture) is indeed happy now.