Opting out of a late lunch, I inserted the one dollar bill into the vending machine and watched with fascination as the bar of snickers fell with a thud on the floor. It wasn’t the first time I was using the vending machine as a convenient substitute for skipped meals. I unwrapped the bar, relishing it and licking my fingers with shameless greed till the wrapper was clean. I was a grown up, which meant that I wasn’t accountable or answerable to anyone for a midday meal of a chocolate bar. Yet somehow, this brought back sweet memories from my childhood when chocolates and candies meant so much more.
We never bought chocolates in our family. I am sure none of us did, waiting for the opportune moment as kids when a certain nice uncle would show up, and in the process of drinking tea and gulping sweets, would take out a bar of chocolates from his pocket. It is funny how you noticed the elevated rectangular thing in his pocket all this while, yet you were not allowed to seem too eager or keen. You were supposed to look coyly at your parents, seeking silent permission, when they would accede. Then you would be expected to thank the uncle, accept the chocolate, yet still not open it or eat it in front of the guests. Like a nice kid, you would put it back in the fridge, and forget about it. The uncle wasn’t supposed to know that the moment the door closed behind him (after thanking him again for his kindness and chocolate for the 113th time now), I would spring in action, somersault and jump, cross 7 mountains and 13 rivers, and sprint to reach the fridge and grab that bar of chocolate. Had that uncle been forgetful, he would have witnessed a very nasty scene of chocolate all over my hands and face on his way back to collecting his forgotten umbrella or car keys. Something quite contrary to the image that had been portrayed for the last couple of hours.
Our family used to be unique in another way. Chocolates were never divided among the two siblings. It was always divided equally into 4 shares. 3 out of the 4 shares went to me, my sister, and my dad respectively, while mom would have a bite of her share. Then, she would again distribute her share among us. Our family didn’t believe that chocolate was meant for kids. It was meant for everyone in the family. That included my grandfather as well, till he had all his teeth pulled out at 75.
The taste of chocolates never lingered in our mouths. No sooner did we finish our share (and mom’s share, and anything remaining, depending on who was stronger), we were expected to go brush our teeth. All my milk teeth removed have been attributable to my dental cavities. Last I heard, the dentist had made a small fortune out of the fees my dad paid him, and his son is attending a college in London thus. Yet as an incentive for the painful process of tooth pulling, I always bargained, argued, bickered, and cried for more chocolates.
The taste of chocolates in my childhood used to be much sweeter. This was perhaps because both quantity of consumption and the frequency of buying were powered in the hands of my mom. Even though you knew you had 8 small bars of chocolates in your share, you could not finish it off in one go. You were expected to save it for days till most of it either went to the ants or into the neighbor’s child’s stomach. Self-sacrifice and controlling greed were virtues that always stood with monstrosity against my chocolate munching. Things got worse especially after my little sister sprouted teeth and learnt to talk and complain and cry because after finishing my share, I would always eat her share. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t very fond of chocolates, the chocolates still had to be there every time I opened the fridge just to tempt me and torture me and teach me qualities such as self-restraint.
The chocolates of those days were very different from the chocolates of today. Not only were there less choices and less brands, there was a clear distinction between what chocolates must be had on what occasion. And while I write this, I can’t help but salivate profusely, thinking of the different memories of my childhood these chocolates bring back.
Like I said, we never bought expensive chocolates like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk or Five Star. These were always gifted to us by some generous uncle when he would visit our home and spend hours finishing a week’s worth tea supply and biscuits and sweets and pakore in return. As the protocol has been described earlier, you could not appear too eager to grab that chocolate bar from his pocket and disappear. You were to wish him and smile at him, make small talk, correct him for the umpteen number of time that you were in class 3 and not class 2, and then look at his extended hand shyly, thank him for the chocolate, and put it back in the fridge. If you did not do it, mom would do it for you, shut the fridge door, and hide the key somewhere on planet mars. Cadbury's (and 5 star) was the most expensive brand of chocolates we ever ate. Yet no chocolates were to be eaten in front of guests. I have eaten chocolates under cover, under the bed, inside the bathroom, hiding in the store room. There was a time chocolates used to be kept hidden in my clothes wardrobe and I would burrow my face inside to munch on chocolates at the pretext of taking out clothes.
Then again, there were candies that you could always bargain for whenever mom took you out with her for grocery shopping. The Mango Mood in its yellow wrapper seemed tastier than the real mangoes. As much as I hated munching paan, I loved Pan Pasand, more so because of the red coating it left in the tongue. Believe it or not, even at the age of 26, I fight with friends over my share of pan pasand. Still reminds me of Archana Joglekar and her “Shaadi aur tumse? Kabhi nahi”. The éclairs were yummiciously delicious, but a little more expensive (50 paisa each), hence usually the choice for birthday celebrations in class. The wrapper was an orange one, and not the golden one it is now. Maha Lacto used to be another of the favorites. I didn’t like Kismi Toffee Bar much. The genre of Amul chocolates was a cheaper substitute for dairy milk (Amul chocolates were still Rs.7.50 a bar while dairy milk was Rs.10.00). I especially loved the orange flavored bars. Another favorite was the Campco milk chocolate bar, perhaps the only white chocolate bar I knew of. Later when I discovered the bliss of Nestle Milkmaid, a brand of condensed milk, it tasted the same. Then there was the age old favorite Poppins, a cylindrical treat of colorful delight (I hated the green ones and loved the pineapple flavored yellow ones). Rola Cola was a later introduced cola flavored version of poppins.
The house of Cadburys itself held so many treats for me. Other than the bar and the five star, there were Gems that I loved to munch on in mouthfuls. Then there was another chocolate I forget the name of, probably Mr.Pops or something akin that was a chocolate version of a lollypop. Wafer chocolates had come much later in my life, and that is probably why I do not associated myself much with wafer chocolates like Kit Kat.
Chocolates and candies were not always chocolaty or sweet. There was this candy called Swad that made your eyes pop out of their sockets and corroded the upper surface of your palate. I still salivate profusely when I think of that jar of Hajmola granny would keep out of my reach, that farty smell whenever the lid was opened, and how you wanted to finish the entire bottle once you started munching on them. Then there were pillow packs of Hajmola Candy- Khatti Imli and Raseela Aam, mango being clearly my favorite. One of the memories I associate with my childhood is that ad of a little boy hiding under the bed, holding out a bottle to the stern looking teacher and saying- “Hajmola Sir”.
Much later in life, when elder siblings, their boyfriends and friends of friends of friends started to leave for the US and send things back, I actually learnt of chocolates like Snickers and Twix and Toblerone and Godiva. I had no knowledge of these as a kid. Hence even now that I am in the US, my hand always reaches out to that bottle of Pan Pasand or Hajmola Candy while shopping at the Indian grocery store. Like I said, I have very fond childhood memories of these. Childhood flew by, but even as a seemingly sensible and mature adult, the mind jumps with joy whenever a friend takes out a bar of chocolate from her bag. All the more if it is the good old dairy milk from the childhood Cadbury's days. Like I said, snickers and twix are always available in the vending machine. But whenever it comes to chocolaty matters, I'll always remain a desi at heart.