Sunday, November 23, 2008

Milky ways.

In my childhood at 233 Khetwadi Main Road, there used to be a milk seller across the street who styled himself as a "dairy". His delivery man or "bhaiyya" as he was addressed in those days climbed up to our third floor terrace flat twice a day carrying on his head a brass vessel with a lid. As soon as the door was opened by my mother or the family retainer, he would plonk down his burden and ladle out the specified quantity of milk using ¼-, ½- or 1-seer brass measures with U-shaped handles. Most afternoons, this would be done under my watchful eye with a bit of accompanying banter addressed mostly to me. The bhaiyya used to call me "baba" and talk in a Bambaiya patois mixing a bit of Hindi and Marathi. I'm talking of the days before I started to go to full-time school, mind you. I had no idea which part of India he hailed from and even if I had known it, I don't think it would have made a whit of a difference to our daily encounter, a pleasant part of my life then. The hisaab (calculation) of the total dues, recorded diligently in a little notebook by my mother, was tallied on the first of every month and promptly paid in cash. There is one rather gruesome image of the dairy that still haunts me. In the pre-Independence riots of 1947, I watched aghast from our terrace window one afternoon the driver of a hack victoria coming from the 13th lane being stabbed. His body tumbled from the driver's perch on to the gate of the dairy. Later, after the police came and had the body removed, the hired help in the dairy was busy for a long time scrubbing away the blood stains. As time passed, the mode of milk supply to 233 Khetwadi Main Road changed. After Aarey Diary's arrival on the Mumbai scene in the early 50s, milk-selling booths mushroomed all over the city. The nearest one was bang opposite our dairy. A queue of squabbling milk buyers would form there twice a day early morning and just after noon, jostling one another, jockeying for a better place and creating quite a racket as is the wont of us Indians. Our dairy like many of its brethern could not withstand the Aarey onslaught for long . Soon, the family retainer had to stand in the queue at least once a day with the aluminum milk token in hand. The milk used to be supplied in glass bottles with quality differnces (whole, double toned, toned, etc.) indicated by the colour code of the foil crown. Much later, the bottles got replaced by plastic pouches. The milk cooker with a whistling siren entered my life sometime around then. As the milk supply improved, the milk token became redundant. You could just walk to any milk booth and walk away with as much milk as you wanted. You could even stand there and sip flavoured milk or lassi with a straw if you so desired. A couple of years back, when Amul, NestlĂ© and others started selling no-need-to-boil milk in Tetra Pak cartons, I switched to it with alacrity. The bhaiyya is now only a distant memory. So is the milk cooker.