Yesterday was a happening day. I joined my brother-in-law in whitewashing the walls of the kitchen and those at the back of the house and I made soap
No I didn’t have to bribe him with a half chewn apple or marbles or bits of string . But there is something to that story of Tom Sawyer , the one where his aunt had asked him to paint the fence and the smart kid got his friends to do it for him and ended up with a lot of knick-knacks too in the bargain. If you keep watching that swish of the brush on the walls , it makes you want to do it too. My brother- in –law gets bugged by the fact that the guys who are generally called in to do this work ,act so pricey and hard to get. So he does a lot of stuff around the house , on his own, like digging up the backyard when it gets full of weeds after the rains , whitewashing and painting and so on.
My little niece watched on with great amusement as I splattered the walls with my adept brush strokes, pitching in now and then with her expert comments. The upper portions of the walls were done by my brother –in-law , as I was a little jittery about getting on to a ladder and balancing the tin of whitewash with one hand , while applying it with the other. What with my mother confined to the bed with a broken femur and me already fifty five, I didn’t want to risk a fall. My niece, whom I hadn’t spared from listening to all my trekking stories, quipped..”Hmm …Nacha says she climbs mountains ..but she can’t even get on to a ladder!!”. You want to keep your head on your shoulder?…Have a kid around you.
But a kid is also a kid . Staying close to me as I moved along the walls, she cracked a joke that may be I should make a profession of it. I went along with her and said..yeah, I’ll never go hungry if I finish off my savings , as I can always take up white-washing. The poor thing thought I was being serious and after a few moments of silence, warned me that I shouldn’t get the idea that it was going to be easy. I’d find it really tough if the house was big, she said.
About the soap making……well, I’ve been wanting to learn that for quite a while. I managed to get a soap-making sample kit from the Shastra Parishath office here in Kannur. It’s really easy. All you have to do is to mix caustic soda with a little water in a plastic or steel vessel (Lye) and when it cools down ( the chemical reaction gives out a lot of heat and the soda can burn your skin..so one has to wear gloves) add oil to it and keep stirring it till it gets to a “gooey’ consistency. That is the basic “saponification “ process. Then you pour it into a mould and let it dry. You can use the soap only after about a month so that it “cures” properly.
The soap kit I bought also had something called “filler”. The guy at the office wasn’t sure about what it was , but made a guess, possibly the right one, that it was boric powder. I had added this , as per instructions, to the oil , before mixing it with the lye. You can add colour and a little bit of aromatic oil for the fragrance and there it is , your soap is ready.
Reading up on the internet, I came across various recipes , including herbal soaps, coconut milk soaps and so on. I guess the quality of the soap depends on the kind of oil you are using (I used coconut oil) and the rest of the extra stuff you put in. I remember buying a few cakes of home made soap from a member of the “Kudumbashree” project here in Kerala, (which was launched as a part of poverty alleviation programme) which has scrapings of coconut in it. I’m really very excited at the prospect of all the experimenting I’m going to do ,once I get back to Delhi and find out from where I can get to buy “caustic soda”.
While making soap, I also realized using a soap to wash one’s face or hands or while taking a bath is just a matter of habit and convenience. Years ago, my mother would only use powdered “moong “ dal ( a kind of pulse) to scrub herself and for her hair she used aloe vera pulp or the viscousy extract of hibiscus leaves. I have used that too, in my childhood as would so many of our generation. The oil that is used in the soap or the other additives used for giving it the moisturizing effect like glycerol or coconut milk , can be applied directly on the skin , right? And for the cleaning and exfoliation of dead cells , home made stuff, like wheat bran, powdered pulses etc are actually more effective. But who’ll be bothered with all that in these times of “instant” everything. When the Delhi winters make feet extremely dry, so much so that my heels start cracking, I regularly use a mixture of glycerine and rose water. Have found that much more effective than any other foot cream. I use it on my hands too , so that it doesn’t get as wrinkled as an ninety year old’s.
A friend of mine commented on a status update about creams that are supposed to lighten skin colour ( which is an obsession for many in this sub continent , thanks to the premium on beauty , aka a fair skin, a concept we keep being bombarded with through one advertisement after another) that what really attracted her to all these so called beauty products , was the fragrance and I think she is right. A paste of pulses definitely will not smell as good as a fragrant soap. So all we have to do is to look around for a fragrant bath oil and we could do away with all those fancy soaps , which promise so much. Really, how much can it do when it stays on our skins for just a few moments before we wash away the lather?
I’m sure the same applies for all those creams. The basic ingredient would be Vaseline or something like that and the other ingredients like fruit pulp extracts or herbs could all be used independently and directly , with better effect, I’m sure . Ah…but the fragrance.
Seriously, we shoudn’t be allowing all these commercial giants of the cosmetic industry to numb us into believing whatever they say. If we have to use soaps, let’s make them on our own, I say. At least we will know what we are “pampering “ our skins with.