वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही–Baghavad Gita
“Just as a human casts off their old clothes to wear new ones, similarly does the soul or aatman cast off the old, worn-out physical body to assume a new one.”
The above quote from the Bhagavad Gita operates on the premise of “Rebirth” as the law of existence. Here, death is but a rite of passage for the soul to reincarnate in various forms over the many cycles of re-births so as to attain the final salvation or moksha.
The analogy, relating the body to a worn out piece of clothing, reminds us that the process of aging is not unlike the wear and tear we see in the household objects and materials we use everyday. No wonder, then, that we very often try to keep both our bodies and the objects around us “alive” through recipes that purport to rejuvenate our skin or hair or prevent beloved objects from falling into disrepair. In India, these recipes for rejuvenating objects are often collected and shared under the rubric of nani maa ke nuskhe or dadi maa ke nuskhe. These terms roughly translate to “the formula/recipe of maternal grandmother” or “the formula/recipe of paternal grandmother.” The terms nani maa and dadi maa ke nuskhe capture the love, innate wisdom and warmth that is generally associated with grandmothers.
It is a truth universally acknowledged (at least in my household) that the wisdom in the form of nuskhe passed down by my set of maternal and paternal grandmothers, and the generation of grandmothers before them, are indispensable, not only to my mother but also to my father and grand-father. And yet, the nuskhe that mean so much to us are not particular to my family. For the most part, it is impossible to trace the genealogy of these recipes or formulas. Nuskhe cannot be dated, and neither can one claim them to be their own. These are universal remedies, pervading every Indian household. They are an intricate thread that stitches together the cultural fabric of the country, regardless of caste, class and religious differences.
Belonging to the corpus of oral tradition, these nuskhe also assume a particular gendered nomenclature. The nuskhe function on the assumption of women as “kushal grahinis” (astute housewives), the astuteness a sign of their ability to keep things and objects as clean and as new as possible, preventing goods from being damaged as well as the ability to breathe a new lease of life into household paraphernalia. But besides rejuvenating and reviving objects, nuskhe also revive the generational vocabulary of memory, keeping wisdom alive through generations. They follow a matrilineal legacy, renewing themselves every generation.
A few of the my grandmother’s nuskhe that I place trust in include:
A time-tested remedy, my nani used to keep neem leaves between the pages of books and among books to prevent silverfish from eating away at the pages. This nuskha promises to rescue books from the clutches of age.
Another nuskha that continues to find a nurturing ground at home is the use of dried red chillies and turmeric knots in rice jars. The use of chillies and turmeric allows the rice to stay fresh, away from the onslaught of weevils.
Nuskhe not only restore gaiety to books and food items. Some also promise to extend their restoring properties to the body and hair. Here is one such nuskha that finds a ready resonance in most Indian households, albeit with a few modifications.
Nani Maa ka Nuskha for Rejuvenating Hair
4 tablespoons amla (Indian gooseberry) powder
1 tablespoon hibiscus powder
1 teaspoon grounded fenugreek
3 tablespoon coconut oil
1 egg/2 tablespoons curd (optional)
Mix all the ingredients, ensuring that there are no bubbles or lumps. Part hair and apply the paste on the scalp. Leave for 10-15 minutes. Wash away with a mild shampoo. The hair mask recipe lends luminosity and volume to hair, giving new life to it.
The popularity of these nuskhe is such that popular Indian magazines, particularly with a good base of women readers have a specific column titled nani maa ke nuskhe or dadi maa ke nuskhe, thereby allowing these to be in perpetual circulation.
The ancestral wisdom, in the form of these nuskhe attest only to the power of renewal and rebirth but are also a lesson in sustainability, a vision foreseen to be economic with resources!
Sonakshi Srivastava is a writing tutor at Ashoka University. She is a translation fellow at South Asia Speaks where she is translating a provincial novel by Jaishankar Prasad into English under the mentorship of Arunava Sinha. Her areas of interest include food studies, posthumanism, and ecocriticism. She actively retweets @SonakshiS11.