Dip, Dip, Dip, Dip
Little polarizes opinion among children as much as the taste of milk. Some children cannot have too much of it, and continue downing a glass of milk first thing in the morning well into mature adulthood. Others, on the other hand, cannot stand the taste, the smell and the injustice of it all, and manage a reflexive gag upon the very thought of downing a glass well into mature adulthood.
I’m a proud flag-bearer of the latter community, and always will be. There is, to my palate, something tremendously jarring about a glass of lukewarm milk. There always has been. Roughly midway through the act of trying to force the contents of the glass past my gullet, my digestive system unfailingly revolts and tries to reverse the natural flow of traffic. The elders in my family were always convinced this was playacting on my part, but I assure you, this was not the case. If you know me personally, you’re welcome to a trial at a time and place of your choosing. I’d suggest keeping napkins of some sort handy, though.
I think it was this aversion to milk that made me like tea in the first place. Tea by itself is a wondrous thing, of course. Especially if paired with a dab of ginger, and particularly on cold, wet and gloomy days such as the one on which I’m penning these thoughts. But the fact that tea replaced milk as my first beverage of the day made it seem even more appealing.
And in particular and above all, tea along with Parle-G. It is a rare Indian who hasn’t had tea with Parle-G. You may not have had Thums-Up, and you may not have ‘smoked’ Phantom cigarettes, but – and I’m willing to wager a significant amount of money on this – you’ve almost certainly torn open a packet of Parle-G when a steaming cup of chai has been placed in front of you. It’s a culture thing, no?
As with all other things in life, Parle-G has also changed. Not just the price – which, to their credit, hasn’t changed by all that much. I don’t know if my memory is playing tricks with me, but Parle-G used to come in a thick wrapping paper that was waxy to the touch. Today, it comes in a thin plastic wrapping that I’m sure is more efficient, hygienic and cheaper – but it doesn’t have the touch and feel of that old wrapper. The old one, you could fold it out neatly, while the modern day version needs to be torn apart. It feels ungenteel, somehow, not right in some undefined way.
Thankfully, the biscuit itself remains a thing of joy. Remarkably plain to look at, and completely unremarkable on the palate, but all the same, effortlessly evocative.
And the taste improves by magnitudes, of course, if said biscuit is dunked in said cup of chai. Alone and by itself, both are magnificent in their own right, but together, they soar to unimaginable heights. In the Partnership League, I would rank them near the very top – the sort of rarified air occupied by Asha-Rafi, Sourav-Sachin and Chole-Bhature.
It’s been five generations, roughly speaking, since India gained independence, and Parle-G must have been around for roughly an equal amount of time. In a Darwinian sense, then, we must have evolved into a nation of champion dunkers. For make no mistake, dunking biscuits is a skill. Judging the softness of the biscuit, the hotness of the chai, and the CrumbleFactor all at once, so that one ends up dunking the biscuit just long enough to make it malleably wet, but not so long so as to make it surrender and slide into the chai, is a devilishly difficult art that can only be mastered after years of apprenticeship. In fact, even after you master it, you still end up keeping a protective hand under the biscuit one you remove it from the chai and put it in your mouth. Such is the nature of the challenge.
My sister and I used to have a competition between ourselves when we were in school. The idea was to dunk the biscuit in only partially, and nibble around the edges, until you were left with the words “Parle-G” and nothing else. The contestant with the smoothest, driest, most intact rendition of the word was the winner. Given that there were around 10 biscuits in each packet, it was a very pleasant way of spending an afternoon.
If you can spare the time, I would strongly urge you to give it a go.