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An interview with Vd. Durgatai Paranjape, Pune, India

Durgatai Paranjape, Punes leading Ayurvedic teacher and practising vaidya , is today in her middle seventies. Her father was extremely active well into his nineties, lived with her and her sister, Dr Sindhutai Paranjape, who herself is 77, a practising gynaecologist, obstretician and surgeon (allopathic).

Vd Durgatai, has some very pertinent observations as she sees the old order give way, sometimes tumultously, to the new.

Churning buttermilk..

"Lifestyle , say about 40-50 years ago, consisted of a lot of daily activities, designed automatically, to give that little required exercise or therapy, to your body, and sometimes, even mind, " she observes. "Before the western model of comfort, so to speak, caught on, there was a lot of bending, stretching, twisting of shoulders, using of wrists, etc in your daily work. The cooking platforms were fairly low, so you often sat cross-legged. Bending over the stoves, involved stretching at the waist, hands outstretched. Churning of buttermilk was a wonderful twisting exercise for your waist, arms, actually your whole body, as you drew alternately left and right, on a rope, which was attached across a huge churning rod. That the buttermilk tasted wonderful because of the slow churning was a different thing !

Floors aften needed to be smeared and coated with cow dung and this work was perfect to keep you supple below the waist. This business of getting prepacked veggies from stores just did not exist. One grew a little bit of stuff, and gardening and maintainance of fruit trees, involved, giving the eyes, some great exercise, looking far and near, not to speak of the neck getting great stretching exercise. Festivals consisted of, among other rituals, the appropriate use of seasonal produce cooked in innovative ways, with natural spices, that added taste cum medicinal value for the season."

Vd. Durgatai has something to say about the behavioural patterns prevalent then. "Unlike today, everyone did NOT have an opinion on everything. Maybe they did; but there were rules and stuff on when one could say one's stuff. There was a nice, equitable mix, of where you could be seen, and when you could be heard ; and what happened , was, that an entire generation got some great practice in self control, handling dissapointments, and working within dynamically changing constraint. Today , every alternate person, goes through extremes of emotion; there are more stress related illnesses; all compounded by an additive studded diet, and time related stress, which really does nothing to help the situation".

She observes, that a lot of traditional recipes, where there was a solid reason for adding of several specific ingredients, in harmony with the season of its preparation etc, are today being modified with total disregard. " Addition of nutmeg ,say, in a specific recipe with coconut, had something to do with the constructive binding of these spices, to food items, which was favourable , biologically speaking. Today with stuff like , say, vanilla , added in such recipes, it just creates more droolers, but does nothing for their digestion !", she added.

While admitting that there was much to admire in the progress made by todays women, science, technolgy, educational facilities etc, she is troubled by the fact that, today, the sun has more or less set, on the social set up, where old people in the family were treated with respect, looked after in their old age, and had a definite role to play in the bringing up of grandchildren. The dawn of the nuclear world has spawned a nuclear style of living, and all the earlier stress busting systems that were built-in , no longer exist, or are about to disappear.

So one sees a lot more, of the diseases common to the western world today. Vd. Durgatai and her sister, lost their mother at an early age; they were brought up by their aunt and father, amongst their other brothers and sisters. When I asked them, if their father or aunt ever had diabetes, thyroid problems and stuff, they just had a nice laugh. (I had occasion to know both their father and aunt quite closely, and must say, that I had never met anyone younger or more cheerful, despite the several trying times in their life. It was an honour to know them, I sometimes think they were really the most "modern" people I knew).