I just had a huge rush of nostalgia for the days when an overseas aunt or uncle’s visit would mean the brief appearance of foreign soaps and body lotions in our middle class, pre – liberalization/pre – cable TV days. This was just coming up to the 80s. An aunt would bring incredible treasures like stuff by Avon and Yardley and we would exult in the subtle perfumes and softer touch of their gifts.
We were used to the rather strongly alkaline soaps India produced at the time, Lyril, Rexona or Mysore Sandal- depending on whether you saw yourself as a bathing in a waterfall bikini girl or a pearls and kanjeevarams girl of allure.
Into these hands would fall the shaped bars of silky Nivea or smooth Lux with their promises of young skin and perfect pH. I swear we bathed and washed our faces so often that we probably did the same damage as the once a day scrubbing with Lyril. As the aunt boarded the plane, the slivers of soap disappeared in the soap dishes of the young nieces and it was back to the days of Margo. Which by the way, left the most bitter neem taste in your mouth if you managed to ingest a bit of foam by mistake. It still does I suspect, but now if I remember correctly, it is fortified with Italian olive oil. If it was winter, we got Pears glycerine soaps. They were probably the best for your skin among the soaps of the time. Most others left your skin dry. Sometimes, my father could be convinced to get us the huge bars of Camay. It was enough to make you feel like a million rupees!
Ever since I have been living overseas, I have been doing what the aunts did, taking soaps, shampoos and creams back as presents. But it is a two way trade as I come back with sandalwood scented Moti and Mysore Sandal soaps, glowing like giant pearls in their stylish packaging. I always have room for Keokarpin body oil, again in sandalwood – for layering. I buy Tuhina and Basantamalati body lotions for all year use in cold Adelaide, knowing fully well that only Aveeno has the horsepower to protect skin of a certain vintage. And when all the soaps have finally been used, I pull out a bar of hand-made goat’s milk and honey soap, unscented of course as it comes with that kind of organic/modern gypsy provenance, have a four a.m bath and mentally decide to go to the Indian shop near Seacombe road to get some soap and perhaps see if he has some Karorpati goli.