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The milk saga April 28, 2009

Posted by globejam in Childhood, This is not bad. It's worse!.

When I was young, we used to get pasteurized milk in 500 ml bottles delivered to our doorstep every morning.  There was something nice and generous about these wide necked bottles.    They were smooth, shapely bottles capped with a thin foil of aluminium with a thick layer of cream hiding right under the cap.  The first one to reach the bottle got to dip a quick finger in and lick the cream, much to my mother’s disgust. The milk was also quite tasty in a pasteurized sort of way.

Then for some reason, these bottles went out of circulation and so we started buying fresh milk.  Having been used to the fat-rich bottled milk, we preferred buffalo milk at our house, it being thicker than that from one of the emaciated cows whose staple diet it seemed was largely movie posters that adorned the compound walls in our area.  

Everyday, the milkman would arrive in the morning with a long cylindrical container, a stuffed calf and a forelorn buffalo in tow.  He would start by deftly swinging the cylindrical container so that it was almost completely upside down for a fraction of a second, as proof that there was no water in the container.  Though in truth, he would have already primed the container with a couple of hundred milliliters of water.  The centripetal force of the swing would ensure that the water did  not spill out even when the container was upside down at some instant during its traversal of an arc in space.  He would then sit down and milk the buffalo then and there, measure the required amount of milk and pour it into the container that we proferred.  

Those were pleasant days. Chennai was little more than an overgrown village and there were quite a few people maintaining cattle and poultry right in the heart of the city.  Every day, the cowherd would take all the cows and buffalos through the streets to some place where he could bathe them and wash them. Or possibly where there was an abundance of movie posters, I don’t know.  Following him 15 minutes later, down the same path, would come his wife with a cane basket in her hand scooping up the dung dropped by the herd.  This cow dung, of course, would later be made into round patties and stuck on walls to be dried and subsequently used as fuel for cooking.  In the 15 minutes between the departure of the cattle herd and the arrival of the poop-scooper, the brahmins in the locality, who believe that the cow is sacred and the dung and urine of the cow medicinal, would step on fresh dung with gusto and where opportunity allowed, partake in some cow urine as it flowed out directly from the tap, so to speak.  This entire ritual would be repeated in the evening in the opposite direction as the cows came back home, the only difference being that the cowherd would have gone off to booze it up somewhere leaving the cows to make their own way back – which they did with utter nonchalance.

I got to watch these idyllic scenes for a couple of years before Chennai began to aspire to become a real city.  Soon the corporation banned all cattle within the city limits, and relocated all the cattle owners (along with the cattle) to the outskirts of the city.  Our supply of fresh milk dwindled quickly but was replaced by the milk sachets from the government driven cooperative milk units set up for the cattle owners under the brand Aavin.  The milk we got through Aavin was tasteless, odorless and watery, but we had no choice.  We made do with this milk for another couple of years before we relocated to our new house on the outskirts of the city.  It was fantastic to move into the new house, with more room and plenty of space outside for a garden and best of all, access to fresh milk again.

One of the first things my mother did on moving to the new house was to scout around and find the nearest source of fresh milk.  And soon we were all getting fresh buffalo milk again.  Though the milkman no longer brought the buffalo home, he would still milk the buffalo at his cattle shed and then  deliver it within 5 – 10 minutes.  He would bring it in a vessel covered with some makeshift lid or another vessel.  

After a few months, the milkman delegated the milk delivery to his son Pitchai.  Now, pitchai was one of the grubbiest people I have ever seen.  He had the blackest finger nails, the dirtiest hair, a hare lip that exposed his front teeth and some of his most recent meal, and his clothes and his body had never seen soap.  My mother would lament “oh! Why doesn’t the milkman scrub his son also along with the buffaloes?”, usually within earshot of the father or the son.  But to no avail, for the neither the father, nor the son seemed to care too much about cleanliness. 

Pitchai would come every morning with our milk and my mother would collect it from him with utmost distaste and boil the milk for a lot longer than usual and hope that we did not catch all the diseases he likely brought along with him. One day, instead of covering the vessel with the customary makeshift lid, he had covered it with some cloth.  My mother was livid.  She thought the cloth was some bedsheet or something.  Aghast, she screamed “Why have you covered my milk with your dirty bedsheet?  Aiya yaiyai yoo! How can we all drink this milk now?”.  To which Pitchai replied, “Idhu bedsheet illae maa, idhu en lingi maa!” (This is not a bedsheet, this is my lungi (sarong)).  Unable to banish vivid images of other things that the lungi would have surely been in contact with,  my mother promptly stopped buying milk from him.

We’ve never had fresh milk at home since then.



1. maami - April 28, 2009

Idhukuthaan milkmaid vechukanum.
She won’t wear lungi and all, no?

globejam - April 28, 2009

Milkmaid. No lungi. um… sounds good. 🙂

2. padmajav - April 28, 2009

Haha!! Hilarious! After buying govt satchet milk for years, I discovered that fresh milk is available near my place! So I’ve promptly switched over to cow’s milk.. Must say it tastes so much better. Esp, curds…
And thankfully this milkman seems clean and decent. He even reads my newspaper while waiting for me to open the door!!!

3. JKBalaji - June 16, 2009

Having had the pleasure of having fresh milk at home with our own cows in Chennai (!!!!!) and moving to fresh milk from outside when the cows were sent to our native and then subsequently moving to Aavin milk – I was able to relate to all that you wrote and much more and enjoy it thoroughly!

globejam - June 16, 2009

Um… the good old days! Nice to go back down memory lane.

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