The talcum powder ads have got it all wrong.. They show secret, delicious, crevices being powdered with it; emitting fragrances so enchanting, it can do almost anything. Clinch the deal, stop the traffic, and/or hook the man, in one Dreamflower-scented swoop. But they’ve got it all wrong. Talcum powder isn’t about coming out smelling like roses. It’s not a blotter of sweat and BO. The true meaning of talc is known only to a South Indian.
Let me explain.
You’ve to understand one thing about these people. Their skins may be black….. sorry, melanin-challenged, but their souls are dazzling white. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world sees them. Where they’re just a bunch of kaalias, so what if they’re very clever at two-plus-two and put us on the world map with Idli-Dosa and the Raman Effect. If your skin’s not the right shade of Aryan, your life’s over. So, to compensate, God gave Southies talcum powder. To slather their faces with it and let its ethereal translucence allow the pure, white depths of their souls shine through. In other words, to be a good Southie, talc is mandatory. Not in the armpit or the cleavage. On the face. An un-talced face is tantamount to indecent exposure and you get drummed out of Southie ranks if you’re caught. Never mind if a dusting of the pearly-white magic turns your black skin into a interesting shade of pearly grey. Remember, grey is white with a dash of black. Or black with a splash of white. Depending on how strong you like your coffee. What matters is the white, in however minuscule a dash-splash.
India produces about 21,000 tons of talcum powder annually and about half of this is consumed by the Southies. Remember the story of Sleeping Beauty? The Southie version’s a bit different. One day, Mrs. Wicked Step-Amma, freshly triumphant from having sent S. Beauty to the Permanent-Swapnalok-in-the sky (or so she thought), stood in front of her beloved mirror and asked, “Mirror, mirror….” Before she could finish, the mirror shattered into a gazillion pieces! W. Step-Amma had forgotten to talc her face! Poor Mirror. Shocked and horrified at having to see naked, un-talced Southie skin, it cracked up. And Mrs. WS did what any self-respecting woman-without-a-mirror would do. Shriveled up and died. Meanwhile, S. Beauty, having waited for her man, like all good Southie girls, with her face well-talced, was kissed and woken up by P. Charming (also well-talced) and lived happily ever after. Moral of the story? Beauty is talc-deep.
For Southie women, talcum powder is what turns frog into prince and kaddu into Mercedes Benz. Good Southie Ammas whisper this mantram in their daughters’ ears as soon as they’re born. When in doubt, talc. When your husband leaves you, talc. When his wife refuses to leave him, talc. When the idli batter fails to rise, talc. When other things fail to rise, forget Viagra; just talc. Nothing like a puff of the ol’ Dreamflower to sizzle the fizzle. In other words, when all else fails, talc.
Ask Amma. Who, by the by, doesn’t throw tantrums, she throws talc. It’s rumored that the only thing she took with her to prison, takes to bed and to all her guftagoos with Atal-Anna is her tin of talc. We can’t, due to national security reasons disclose the brand , but it’s talc. And if you’re a scoffing skeptic, smirking at this panegyric, look at Amma’s skin. Flawless alabaster. Or look a little further. At Hema-Amma’s. Or Vijayanthi-Amma’s. All exquisite testimonials to the power of the powder. The magic that turns duckling into swan. At least inside the Southie’s head. Or to put it another way, talcum powder is Southern Comfort.