Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tell Me Your Creams

...and I'll tell you your age!

The realization that I am growing old hit me acutely. Not because I suddenly felt my brain is bursting with new found wisdom. Not because my joints are all creaky. Not because another goddamn birthday is round the corner. But because the cosmetics I usually buy have longer and longer names. It’s no longer just some ‘lotion’ or ‘cream’. Its pro-this-that with-this-that molecules/extracts.

When I was a kid, I remember the predominant term used for face cream was ‘snow’. Yes. I remember a lovely dark blue/indigo bottle which contained a white cream with a heavenly fragrance. It was called ‘Afghan snow’. I guess it was expensive – I had always seen these bottles in my friend’s place. Her mom used to work in a bank or someplace, and this bottle was a guarded treasure. This was enough reason for my friend and me to stealthily slather on this cream on our face and hands and legs and giggle. Finally her mom made a pact with us – she will give us the empty bottles to play with, but we should not touch her cream. Her cream was stowed away in the little secret locker within the locker of the Godrej ‘beeru’. I asked my mom if we could buy this cream. She said, ‘When you grow up and go to office and get lots of money, you can buy the cream.’ Of course, Ms. Smarty Pants that I was, I promptly asked why Appa is not buying the cream since he is grown up and he goes to office. While my Mom replied vaguely about ‘Appa not being a grown up’, Appa grumbled from some corner, ‘That is the only thing left for me to do.’ And then, everyone had burst out laughing, including my grandpa. I went away irritated – grown-ups had no straight answers for anything.

But I will always associate those growing years with Vicco Turmeric cream and Ponds talcum powder. And then, Ponds came out with the ‘vanishing cream’ and the ‘cold cream’. While Vicco wagged their forefinger and said ‘Vicco Turmeric, nahin cosmetic’; Ponds placed their face creams as exactly that – cosmetics. Soon enough, a lot of women I knew switched brands. In fact, the cold cream became more of a unisex cream. It had a thick oily texture to it, and once you massage your face with it, and pat on some talcum powder – what can I say – it was like whitewash on fresh plaster. For the women, the ‘make-up’ would not be complete without ‘eyetex’ kajal – it came in a small round dabba, and ‘Shringar’ liquid kumkum. A little ghee smeared on the lips served as the gloss, at the same time acted as a chap stick – and more importantly, no harm done if ‘accidentally’ licked! The weekly castor oil bath ensured the skin remained adequately moisturised – and body lotions were unheard of. In the worst case scenario, coconut oil would be rubbed gently on the hands and legs to keep the dryness at bay.

But the revolution came with Fair & Lovely. What a brand placement! Simply genius! They took the Indian prejudice towards the dark skin tone – and turned that into an everlasting opportunity. I vividly remember the print advertisements – the lady’s visage going from dusky to radiantly fair in a matter of six weeks. Tubes and tubes of creams were emptied on girls of marriageable age.

But my teenage years were devoted to Lakme. They were the first ones (of a mass brand) to bring the beauty parlour concepts to homes – sunscreens, moisturises, toners and cleansers. Then one of my friends discovered ‘Oil of Olay’. She had used it in her ‘foreign returned’ cousin’s house. She described its virtues – a creamy lotion in a bottle (those days, Olay used to come in a glass bottle), and so soft and so gentle on the skin – can’t even feel it; but almost immediately, the skin becomes like velvet. But it was not yet available in India, and we lamented our bad fate. But finally, Olay did open up in the market. But only in select stores. I remember rushing to our kaka kirana shop in the suburbs of Bangalore. When I asked for Oil of Olay, the shopkeeper in a torn vest and checks lungi scratched his head and said he has ‘Wonly gogonut oyil’.

I went back home and had a good laugh. Then, we three girls – Mom, sis and self – set off for our pilgrimage to Malleswaram. If something was not available in Malleswaram, then it was not available anywhere in India. It was as simple as that. Malleswaram 8th cross is the holy of holies. Hanuman Stores on 8th cross was like a Christian Dior store for us. While we bought the Olay bottle, the charming lady behind the counter also convinced me that I need the liquid eyeliner from Lakme (how did I live without it all the years?), and a Lakme foundation cream, just in case some function came up and I had to ‘glow’. Looking back, those Malleswaram trips with my Mom and sis were the happiest days of my life. And now, I believe the traffic is just unbearable and the place has lost its charm. In any case, now that my Mom is not there, I cannot bear to step into 8th cross – it would be too painful.

During my first job, I became an ardent fan of Shahnaz Hussain. I still believe that of all the stuff I’ve used – her range is truly awesome. But by the time I joined my second job, everyday was a race against time and it was truly a miracle that I managed to brush my teeth and shower. In any case, with Health & Glow outlets everywhere, stocking all possible brands both local and international – the thrill of stumbling across a new cosmetic was gone.

Now, as I stand in malls or in any beauty store – I just feel weary. I should apparently use a night cream so that my skin repairs from the vagaries of the day. No, I cannot use the night cream during the day because the composition is different. No I cannot slap on the under-eye almond cream everywhere on my face. It has to be UNDER THE EYE ONLY. Do I take the cream, the lotion, the foam or the serum? Do I want oil-based creams or water-based creams? Do I just want to smoothen out the complexion or smoothen out wrinkles? Do I want to hide enlarged pores or do I need spot treatment for ‘localised problem areas?’ Oh! And apparently fingers are not good enough for spreading the cream on the face. So do I want something with a ‘brush applicator’ or a ‘sponge applicator’? There is pro-retinal, pro-age, pro-visage, pro-collagen. And it does not end there. They come with ‘pearl molecules’ or ’24-carat gold flakes’, or the goodness of some seaweed which releases blasts of antioxidants. I thought this was only for the face creams. But no. Is my lipstick weather-proof, coffee-cup proof, kiss proof? Is it a leave on? Does it have a diamond shine? Does it moisture my lips while adding glamour? Does my mascara add a ‘million times’ volume to my short, non-descript eyelashes?

Yes I’ve grown old. Because the magic is broken. I KNOW that the model lying on the couch, gently biting her pearl necklace, coyly looking into the camera with a hint of cleavage has that radiant glow because of photoshop. Not because of pro-effingenzyme. But wait a minute! It says here that this cream tackles ‘7 effects’ of aging. So far I knew only one effect of aging – forgetting to apply anything to the face because one is in a hurry to finish a blog. Ah! But this one is supposedly for people like me – who don’t bother with the moisturiser and concealer and foundation – they’ve swirled everything into one mother of all cream. All I have to do is apply it a couple of times a day after ‘gently cleansing’ my face – not with some harsh facewash. But with their wonderfully formulated face wipes. I can see the results within a couple of days apparently. My skin will become even-toned, supple, soft and the glow of youth shall be restored. Of course, what is unsaid is that I may have to dab a bit of that diamond-shine kiss-proof lipstick. I may have to stick on false eyelashes and curl them and then use the ‘volumising’ mascara so that I can flutter my eyelids. I may have to do something about my hair – combing it regularly would be a start. And while I’m at it, I may have to lose about 30 kilos. Yeah, definitely then the ‘glow of youth’ shall be restored. I sigh and buy the damn cream. 

I come home and gently place the ‘elixir of youth’ in my ‘dressing draw’. Only to find an unopened‘elixir of youth’. I am sure in another three months time I will go and buy the same cream forgetting that I already have two of them. 

© Sumana Khan - 2011


  1. Super! I love 'Wonly gogonut oyil’

  2. You won't believe this I have never really used any cream or cosmetic on a regular basis. I'd buy and not use and the after couple of years and after ensuring that the caked cream is useless throw it out. Looking good is a hard task. Last month, for the first time in life I got a full fledged pampering session done and was feeling awkward when the ladies at the parlor were so gently giving me the treatment. Instead of feeling happy I was feeling guilty with all the seva. It took me a while to appreciate the post pampering look. I have now decided to enjoy it once in a while and also tip those women who do it.

  3. nice writeup. another sign of getting old - husbands start noticing and commenting about pretty young ones. why do men have to look better with age? not fair.


  4. Loved it... You should have also added a few words of unheard creams that we have now, for men..

    The blue dubba cream with a nice smell, was that Nieva? Well it definitely had a wonderful smell back then.


  5. balance out i check out good looking young men too LOL!

    @yash - sorry was a girls majority clue about men's cosmetics. but yes, i the slim round blue dabba is nivea.

  6. @anjali - you must do it more often! feels great :)

  7. LOL at your reply about looking at good looking men. Me too!!


  8. What we call despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.

  9. Hi,
    I am that visitor from Hyderabad who has been reading your blog for the last few minutes.
    Loved your post! It is really entertaining and enjoyable :)
    Came across your blog through IHM.
    Keep up the great work!
    Happy writing :)

    1. Anon welcome to Kaapizone :) I'm glad you enjoyed my posts!

  10. Gosh!
    Never knew there was so much to know about women's cosmetics.

    Palmolive or Godrej shaving cream and occasionally bit of after shave lotion is all most men need in addition to Toothpaste.

    Good old coconut "oyil" is all I need for my hair.

    In the bathroom, just one out of the dozen or so items on the shelves is mine. The rest are used by the wife. I don't even know what some of them are for. No point in asking. The standard answer is "you need not know"

    It sure is lot less expensive to be a male these days.


    1. There were three women in my family - all his life Appa has heard 'you need not know' :) :)

  11. Hi Moonbeam,
    I have been reading your blog for quite some time now. Liked all your posts under "Sitcom=My Life". Love your writing.

  12. This is amazing post. Reminds me of unopened bottles lying in my cupboard....

  13. Loved the post. I have finally stopped indulging in creams & lotions not becoz good sense has prevailed but becoz can't afford them in Spore. Now that i have started working, i may soon start :)
    - Anitha

    1. Yay Anitha! Congrats on the job front :) I finally found the perfect skin treatment - running ;)