Indians Share Their Love-Hate Relationship With Dairy
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“As pure as milk!” Haven’t you heard this before? As Indians, we drink milk, cook with it, and offer it to our deities as part of religious rituals. It’s the first thing an infant eats or drinks. Even after mother’s milk, we consider cow’s milk safe enough to give to our little ones. In most Indian homes, drinking milk in the morning, especially before a child leaves for school, is mandatory. A mother running after her child, urging them to finish their milk and threatening them with no play time or TV time, is a common sight in desi households. 

From not liking the malai that forms on the surface when warm milk starts cooling down to loving cold milk but hating hot milk, Indians have many quirks when it comes to drinking milk.

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A child who loves their milk and drinks it without fuss is every parent’s dream. 11-year-old Shanaya Shah, from Mumbai, is one such child. “What do you mean, why do I like milk? It’s good. Why do you like Papa?” she says when her mother asks her why she loves milk so much. When she was 3 years old, Shanaya’s mother asked her how much milk was left in her cup. In response, Shanaya turned the cup upside down to show her how much milk was left and then started crying when she realised that she had spilled the milk and now wouldn’t get anymore. 

Garima Johar, a 24-year-old writer based in Mohali, was a picky eater as a child but loved her glass of milk. “Everyone would find it weird. When I didn’t finish my meal, my mom would say, If you don’t eat your veggies, you won’t get milk at night. I loved milk so much that I would quietly finish everything on my plate. I would drink plain milk with sugar three times a day: in the morning before school, in the afternoon after a nap and at night before going to sleep. Even now, I drink it twice a day. It's comforting and I feel like I sleep better,” she tells us.

For some, it’s not just the milk but the memory associated with it. “I’ve always been a milk baby. I would beg my mom if it was time. It is actually about the way my mom makes my milk. I’m 40+ today and the recipe and the taste are the same. A glass of milk would have just a little sugar. It would never be too sweet—just the right amount. It would have dry ginger powder and Pripramul powder ( the root of a long peppermint plant),” says 43-year-old Zeenal Shah Jhobalia, who works with community service projects in Mumbai.

 “Something about the things she added made it easily digestible. We never had bloating or felt stuffy with milk. Even my cousins, who didn’t like milk and didn’t drink milk in their own homes, would come to my place and ask my mom to give them some. A cousin who was visiting after a while recently asked my mom to give her a glass of milk, saying it was a favourite childhood memory,” she adds. 

However, not everyone has fond memories of having to finish a glass of milk every day. “I was 6 years old and I hated milk. We lived in Dubai at the time. In the morning, before going to school, my mother would give me a large mug of plain milk. I would pretend to drink it in front of her and then pour it down the kitchen sink. I would always remember to tap post that. More than half the milk would go down the drain, literally,” Sanchi Chopra, who is the principal at Mumbai’s Balaji International School, confesses.

 “One day I was running late and I forgot to run the tap. We had a typical stainless sink and while the milk went through the drain, a white residue remained. My mother instantly knew what I had done. I had just left home and walked out of the door to the school bus. I heard my mother call me by my nickname in public, which, as a child, I found very embarrassing. I turned around and saw my mother walking towards me in her night kaftan. As soon as I saw her, I quickly ran into the bus. She made the bus wait. Made me get off and made me finish my milk. Every time someone talks about milk, I think of this,” she says.

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Just like Sanchi, there are many others who’ve gone to great lengths to avoid mandatory milk consumption. Siddharth Bhowmik, who runs a business vehicle restoration in Pune, hated the smell of milk and would also pour the milk down the drain. The only difference though was that he never got caught. Abhinav Verma, a video editor from Pune, would pretend to go sit in the garden to enjoy the weather outside and drink his milk but he never drank a drop.

“All the milk went to this one bush that started to flower out of season with its new Bournvita intake. That's when I got busted, I think. After that, I  just stopped drinking it. Later on in life, I took to cold milk and Hershey's. But sugar content and diabetes made me give that up,” he says. 30-year-old Pooja Barge, who is a marketing manager and a self-confessed foodie, held her ground even as a child. “When my mom insisted I drink milk, I simply put my foot down and said absolutely not! No running, no crying, no tantrums, and no lying.”

Tanisha L. Lekhraj, a Mumbai-based PR professional, made up her mind early on that she was lactose intolerant only when it came to plain milk. “I like paneer, cheese, and curd, but every time my mom asked me to try milk or add protein powder to it, I would feel sick. Milk doesn’t agree with me. Sometimes I crave it and have a matcha latte or a decaf coffee, only to regret it later at night. I can’t live without the texture and taste but I also do not want to regret it after,” she tells us.

A PR professional based in America, Priya Shah is a parent to two young sons and is seeing her childhood come right back to her. “I hated milk. I would hide from my mom in the morning while going to college and slide out on my two-wheeler and my mom would come running behind me. I have passed that on to my elder son, Armaan. My husband, on the other hand, couldn’t do without milk as a child and has passed that on to our younger son, Saahir.”