Walk into any restaurant in Tamil Nadu – a top-notch local cuisine spread or a roadside ‘rest-o-ruant’. Underneath the socio-economic differences, a little voice pipes up “We’re all the same! Tamizh vazhuga” (Long live Tamizh for the uninitiated..ummmm..un-Tamizhized). Don’t believe me? Run a quick finger down the menu….getting closer…closer…ah, ah there…oops, no missed it! Didn’t see it?

Drinks 

Tea
Coffee
Nescoffee
Horlicks
Bournvita
Ganga Jamuna mocktail
Mozambi joos
Maramari
Fresh Lime soda
Soda

There! There! There! You can consume two of the major rivers in one keg-shaped glass with a slippery handle. You can experience a Bollywood masala movie through the not-so-sweet communion of orange and pineapple. I think you can do this in most places in the country (or at least everywhere you can feel the influence of that tiny indomitable speck on the India food map that still holds out to the Punjification threat…a spot called Udupi).

But coming back…the great state of idlis, kanjeevarams and eligible US-based software professionals…is the only place you’ll find that rare delicacy, that manna of every Tamizh mother’s kitchen…Horlicks paal (scalding hot milk with Horlicks and a shovelful of sugar)! A few mommas prefer the potion that ensures strength of body, strenth of mind…Bone-veee-taah. My family was rather partial to the horror-lix brand, however.

So not kidding. Really, try the above experiment and see. Me? I’m fed to the stomach with Horlicks paal…I was brought up to be a nalla Tamizh ponnu after all. Of course mommas everywhere try to stuff their darling terrors with vitamins, essential minerals and all sorts of gunk to ensure the reign of terror is complete. But only a Tamizhian carries this trend ahead into force-feeding adults with this delightful concoction as well. Witness then, the visit of Mr.Arumugam and family to friendly, neighborhood amma’s place.

Mr.A:

Namaskaram, amma. Yenna, yepudi? (What, how?…aka…Wossup?) It is so good to see you looking good.

Amma:

Welcome, welcome! What will you have? Tea? Coffee? Horlicks?

Mr.A:

No, we had lunch before coming!

Amma:

Parawallai (no matter). Have some Horlicks.

Ms.A (in panicky anticipation of future tortures):

No, we just had coffee this morning. So nothing, thank you.

Amma:

Addu yepudi mudiyum? (That how be possible?) Horlicks then. It is very good for health, especially for growing children.

Ms.A at the tender age of twenty-two feels disinclined to protest. Enter a steaming hot tumbler of Horlicks paal for the esteemed guests.

Every summer vacation, as befitted the dutiful family from far-away (in Mumbai), we visited our relatives scattered all over idli-land. Time was precious and the loving family, numerous so multiple visits were packed into a single day. Every stopover would bring on a fresh wave of gushing (“Look how big she is!”) and a piping hot tumbler of Horlicks paal. Come sun, come sunnier sun, come eyeball-melting-hot sun, come I’m-nothing-more-than-a-puddle-of-sweat sun, the tumbler of Horlicks paal was always present at the welcome. Scalding hot (presumably to sweeten/sharpen tongue and produce future Horlicks-feeding Tamizh amma), sweetened to maximum with dregs of undissolved sugar lying at the bottom of the tumbler. Oh and always filled to the brim. The typical tumbler is designed for maximum discomfort, engineered for most optimal wobbliness and guaranteed to cause pain through spillage, scalding by transfer of heat to finger and cut lips with sharp rim. One tumbler full of Horlicks paal.

On one such visit, having dutifully consumed a sufficient number of cups of Horlicks paal and feeling duly brilliant (enough to pass my exams of the next 4 years with flying colours), I rebelled. Naturally nice Tamizh aunty wasn’t swayed by my squeaky protests..couldn’t be helped, my tongue was still smarting from the scalding it got from the previous cups of Horlicks.

My cousin however, having acquired a requisite set of survival skills from a childhood in Chennai winked to me to accept the tumbler without further ado. Then with a clear, innocent voice that could only sound that sweet from too much Horlicks paal, she announced that she’d like to show her Bombay cousin the garden ‘since poor child doesn’t get to see trees in Bombay’. Nonplussed I followed…I didn’t remember having any botanical cravings back then.

As we trotted around, me carefully balancing the tumbler and taking tentative sips from the tumbler to get the level down. At the corner, sweet cousin neatly poured her Horlicks paal under a plant stem. Eyes goggle-eyed with admiration, I started to her when she stopped me with

Wait! Not this one, then they’ll notice. Even plants get enough of Horlicks. We must find another tree!

Duly sympathetic to my botanical fellow sufferer, I trotted around dutifully and spotted another one. With a gleeful whoop I descended on the spot splashing the Horlicks paal out instead of the graceful streaming my cousin had accomplished. Oh horror-lix of horrors, some of it landed on my dress! And what’s worse….nice Tamizh aunty and my parents turned the corner just then (aunty having decided that the ‘poor’ Bombay adults needed a tree-sighting as well).

You can’t imagine what came next. No, I didn’t get the firing of my life for disrespecting food, drink, the benevolence of the ma-cow that produced the milk and the martyred calves that gave their food away to me, the kindness of my elders, the hospitality of my dear great-aunt, the love my parents had shown in bringing me back to my roots…(do you know there are children who don’t get enough to eat! And here you are throwing away Horlicks paal!)

Instead, my lovely Tamizh aunt (obviously well-fed on a staple diet of Horlicks herself) gaped, recovered in a fraction of a second to say,

Oh poor thing. She really likes trees and in the excitement she spilt the milk. Don’t cry over it. I’ll make you another one!

Hmm…if revenge is sweet, the second tumbler of Horlicks paal was sweeter. I gave up my battle against the Horror-lix that day.

I still wonder though, if children everywhere else are subjected to the same delights each day. Someone should undertake a study to see if Tamizh kids really are better at maths, at running races and giving smart answers in class. Some of us certainly grow a strange sense of humour. Like my uncle who famously claimed that no Tamizhian ever need learn Kannada. Apparantly substituting ‘pa’ for ‘ha’ and vice versa in every word in Tamizh would convert it to Kannada. Hallelujah! Apparantly my dear Kannadiga friends suffer from an onslaught of Porlicks hallu then! I better stop before they notice that along with my blood pressure level, haemoglobin count, my Horlicks paal intake has reduced as well. Tree up ahead!

15 thoughts on “The horror-lix story”
  1. Now you know why Complan later began the “I am a growing girl” range of advertisements. Not because they did not want to be labelled male chauvinists, but only because Horlicks garnered a large share of the market whose decision makers had at least one girl child in their families.

    As for me, I tried them all. Nutramul, Complan, Horlicks, Bournvita, Boost. These days I try tea, coffee or Tropicana.

  2. aah the sweet agony. But then i did find an ingenious way to solve this problem by eating Horlicks .. yes the raw thing 😀 it kind of sticks to the insides and makes you go all guey guey for a few minutes but then amma would notice the falling levels of horlicks and occasionally substitute tea for horlicks to meet budget constraints 😀

  3. hehe ..sympathize whole-heartedly…
    i was saved from horlicks and such like thanks to the indian army that insisted on posting my dad to various far flung places in the country making visits to TN difficult….and there we only got complan, and tea almost straight from the estates..

    hmm maybe thats why I suck at maths…and the only time i ever ran was to avoid the bunch of girls trying to tie a rakhi on me…but no shortage of smart answers in class..that led to frequent visits to the headmaster’s office….maybe horlicks is good after all.

  4. no! That’s not fair! I LOVE horlicks (yes! don’t gape- succh people do exist on the face of this earth) and the only thingI got at my relatives, since i refused to partake in the ‘kaapee’ ritual (blasphemy!) was scalding hot milk! and since we grow up on a staple diet of amul milk, i could immediatedly make out this was the product of undernourished tamizhnaad cows. EWW.

  5. @ hyde: Sarcasm suffices for me. 😉

    @ Teleute: My nostrils were burned and relieved of their olfactory duties since the periodic dunkings into horror-lix paal glasses. Even if they’ve recovered now, I won’t take my chances…will believe you!

    @ Australopithecus: Aaiooo paawam child, come let me give you a hot cup of Horlicks paal!

    @ Sense: We love our friends, strange though their tastes may be. However don’t you dare foist that horror-thing on my chweet neffy-poo!

    @ Grey Shades: Now, in retrospect it is. Then, it was torture!

  6. thats exactly the plan i devised at the tender age of 8! 😀 I used to neatly spill all the boost/bournvita/horlicks/everything-else-they-tried down behind our compound wall ….wrked fine till dad caught me one day! and continued to wrk fine coz they decided it was time to give up 😀

  7. @ Sense: Oh eww. Poor thang…the woes of childhood!

    @ DI: *Wagging finger* Evil child! Looks like there wasn’t ever a better case of ‘perfect timing’ 😉

  8. heee i love my horlicks. but ill drink anything out of a steel tumbler.

    i had this cousin who for some strange reason decided to mix a few spoons of horlicks into the gulab jamun instant mix. i was scared to even try it but it came out great!

  9. 🙂

    Nice…Very Nice 🙂 You had Horlicks to contend with and I had to fight Malts specially Raghavendra Malt…But, now sometimes I miss it…

    btw, You don’t provide full feeds, any particular reason??

    Cheers,
    HP

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