It is amazing to know that a simple cup with an elongated snout has played a crucial role in feeding the babies milk and medicines over centuries. There is no doubt about the fact that breastfeeding is the best form of feeding the babies. Sometimes, due to various factors, breastfeeding is not always possible for mothers. Babies who are deprived of the mother’s breast milk, for whatever reason, are then given milk from other devices that have been created by humans. Though it is not a natural way, these man-made devices play a crucial role in the feeding process to ensure that the babies get their dose of nutrition and grow up to be healthy. One of such man-made devices is called paladai or sangadai in Tamil. In Telugu, it is called uggu ginne. Jhinuk is another name given to it in West Bengal and people in the northern states call it bondla.
Paladai is made of various metals like gold, silver, copper, bronze and brass. Which one is used in a household depends on the financial status of the family. The paladai is considered as a sacred and auspicious item and it is given a reverential treatment. After use, it is cleaned thoroughly and placed in a secluded place where nobody can touch it. Only the designated elders of the family handle the feeding cup. If there’s a paladai in the house, it means that there are children in the house and there is progeny and continuation of life in the family.
Apart from it being used for milk feeding, paladai is also used to administer homemade concoctions of medicines for increasing the immunity of the child. It is also used for administering other ingredients like castor oil and other liquid medications.
The Design of Paladai
This antique paladai has a beautiful unique shape. It is basically a cup with a long groove-like spout on one side and a handle on the other end of the cup. The cup is fairly deep so that the milk is held in the cup even when the cup is tilted to feed the baby. The long open spout has thick edges since sharp edges can be rough on the baby’s mouth. The paladai has a round tubular base on which the cup rests.
The elevated base also helps in preventing ants and other pests from reaching the milk. The open cup also helps in cooling the milk in case it is hot and not fit for consumption. The handle can be held firmly with the thumb, pointing finger and the middle finger. It is heavy and sturdy and doesn’t break if dropped by mistake. The sturdy circular base sits firmly on the ground and has good stability.
My Memories of Paladai Feeding
The images are still fresh in my memory. My mother used to feed milk to the children of our family members with paladai sometimes. She used to sit on the floor, stretch her legs, draw her sari to the knee length, place the baby on her lap, and gently tuck the legs of the baby in between her legs. This was to ensure that the baby would not kick the legs destabilizing the milk in the paladai. She would then hold the two hands of the baby with her left hand and take the paladai in her right hand and place the tip of the spout in the baby’s right side of the mouth. If for any reason the baby would not open the mouth, she would gently tap the left side of the mouth with her pointing finger. This gentle tapping motion would make the baby open the mouth and she would dexterously slip the spout into the baby’s mouth.
The baby would normally gulp the milk and in case the baby held the milk in the mouth without gulping it for some reason, she would again gently tap the left side of the mouth with her finger. This gentle tapping movement sets in motion the gulping rhythm of the baby.
My mother also used to administer castor oil and sometimes medicines as well to the baby with the paladai. It was a common practice during my younger days to feed the babies with castor oil once in a week. This was done to ensure smooth and regular bowel movement for the babies.
Paladai and the Opium Connect
Back in the day, when the baby used to cry without any obvious reason, my mother used to diagnose that the baby must be having some stomach problem and then used to administer a mild dose of opium. Now, before some of you get shocked, let me clarify that this was a common practise. The dosage was crucial and mothers would be very careful and mindful of that.
We used to always have opium stored in a small silver container at home. I came to know from my grandfather that opium was supplied in Taluk offices to the ration holders during British rule in India. As strange as it may sound in today’s world, this was how it was back in the day.
To administer the opium to the child, my mother would take a needle and dip it into the opium and pick up what is held by the needle head. Then the opium was heated on a fire and dipped into the milk in the paladai and mixed well. You kind of get a sense of how tiny the quantity would be. The opium milk would then be administered to the baby, and surprisingly the baby would stop crying and sleep well.
My Experiences of Gulping Castor Oil from Paladai
I remember my mother feeding me and my sisters with castor oil once in a month till I was about 10 years old. Castor oil has a rancid smell and it is very repulsive to gulp too. When we used to see the sight of the paladai we used to run away to escape from the agony. The very sight of paladai would send shivers down our spines because we knew what was coming. My mother and other elders would catch hold of us and then we used to be coaxed and persuaded to take the castor oil. If we resisted, we would be bribed with biscuits and sweets. Once we realized that we couldn’t escape the inevitable, we would very reluctantly gulp the oil by closing the nose with our fingers to mitigate the odor of the oil. This oil gulping ceremony was generally conducted early in the morning so that the bowel movement would free up. Then sometime around 11 a.m. is when we would be given rice mixed with dry ginger powder and ghee followed by rasam. There would be strictly no yogurt, dal or vegetables for us on that day.
Whenever I see the paladai in my collection when I take it out for dusting or cleaning, I fondly remember my childhood adventures with it. I touch and feel these cute paladais that once were an integral part of my childhood and I grew in the paladai culture.
Feeding the Babies in Today’s Age
Nowadays, one can’t find a paladai in any modern household. It has slowly become obsolete and forgotten. People who have some idea or memory of it now consider it to be old fashioned and something that is barbaric. It is convenient to use plastic feeding bottles with plastic nipples, but how safe are they? Use of plastic itself is dangerous, be it food grade or whatever and it is best avoided when children are involved. But to think of it, there’s no escape from plastic for us now. It is everywhere! In our homes, in our offices, out on the streets, deep in the soil and also in the water bodies.
Plastic bottles carry harmful bacteria and unless they are regularly sterilized, they can be very hazardous for the health of the infant. Paladai made in brass, bronze or silver is relatively safe. The design of the paladai is so simple that it is easy and effective to clean. A paladai doesn’t have to go through the cumbersome process of sterilization like the plastic bottles.
Paladai has stood the test of time and it has been passed on from one generation to the other as a heirloom till we saw the emergence of the plastic feeding bottle. In our present materialistic world, we miss the greatness in small things and beauty in simple inventions by our ancestors. Since the last few years, there is a slow revival of the brass paladai and people are realizing its value. We now also see paediatricians advising parents to avoid the feeding bottle and introduce the cup feeding (read paladai feeding). There’s also something called “Ban the Bottle” movement that has been gaining traction. Something worth pondering on.
Traditions Associated with Paladai
I have already mentioned that paladai is known as uggu ginne in Telugu. I am from Andhra and have grown in the uggu ginne culture. “Uggu” in Telugu means milk or any liquid food and “ginne” means a cup. Words like uggu ginne, uggu paalu, uggu pattadam were regularly used in day-to-day life a few decades ago.
A newborn baby born in a family is a joyous occasion meant to be celebrated. Andhra people celebrate every small thing associated with the growing up process of a baby. The celebrations are very meaningful and colourful. The first word, first laugh, first crawl, first step, first of everything that the baby does are all occasions to celebrate.
The joy of celebration is not just restricted to family alone but also to the neighbors, friends and relatives as well. Sweets and special delicacy items are prepared and distributed. Each event is dedicated to a particular variety of special treats.
In those days, when there were no cell phones or digital cameras, the memories associated with the occasion were not stored in any digital form but ingrained in sweet memories. Here, I list down some of the traditional celebrations associated with the growing stages of the baby.
1. Ookalaku Uggu Ginne: Ookalu is the first oral sound(s) the baby makes. Think of baby gibberish. When the baby makes the first oral sounds when she/he sees the mother or a family member or a visitor, the event is celebrated by distributing uggu ginne to the relatives, friends and neighbors. This is a great event in the family since it is the first achievement of the baby trying to socialize with the family.
2. Navvulaku Nuvvu Undalu: When the baby flashes the first smile, sweet balls prepared with nuvvulu (til or sesame seeds) and jaggery are shared with near and dear ones.
3. Palukulaku Chilakalu: When the baby utters her/his first word, this event is celebrated by sharing a sweet in the shape of a parrot made out of sugar .These sugar parrots can be preserved for a long time.
4. Muddalaku Mudda Kudumulu: When the baby starts making the movements of closing and opening fists similar to the motion of making a rice morsel, a dish called mudda kudumulu is made and distributed to near and dear ones. Mudda kudumulu are also known as undrallu which is the traditional dish made as an offering to Lord Ganesha. Kudumulu are made with broken rice, first boiled along with pulses like Alasandulu (black eyed peas) or chana dal, then shaped into small round balls which are then steamed in a steamer. Making kudumulu with alasandulu is a traditional way of preparing this item.
5. Borla Padithe Bobbatlu: When the baby masters the feat of turning from the back-lying-posture to lying-on-the-stomach posture, which is called borla padadam, bobbatlu (a special sweet dish) are made. Pappu polilu, puran poli, bhakshalu are other names for bobbatlu.
6. Paakithe Pakam Chalividi: When the child starts crawling and starts moving around on his/her own, this is a great event and is celebrated with another special dish prepared only in Andhra called chalividi. Chalividi is prepared with rice flour and jaggery or sugar and flavored with cardamom along with fried pieces of coconut.
7. Gadapa Daatithe Garelu: Gadapa is the bottom part of the door frame that rests on the floor. In English, it is called the threshold. In traditional houses, all the door frames used to have gadapas. If one has to pass through the door of a house, the person has to cross the gadapa and then enter the room. When the baby crosses the gadapa for the first time while crawling, it is a great feat and such a rare occasion is celebrated by preparing and sharing garelu with neighbours, friends and relatives. Garelu are also called vadas.
8. Adugulaku Ariselu: Finally, the first walking steps of the baby (adugulu) are welcomed by distributing ariselu to the neighbours and loved ones. This sweet dish is specific to Andhra region.
Traditional vs Modern
The plastic feeding bottle which is considered as a miracle solution to soothe a crying baby is now progressively seen as an enemy. Some pediatricians are advising the modern young mothers to go back to the tradition and follow the wisdom of their grandmothers and mothers in adopting spoon feeding, cup feeding or the good old paladai feeding.
Annal Gandhi Memorial Government Hospital, Trichy, recently gave away a paladai each to mothers as a takeaway gift. I’m sure this initiative must have other hospitals and mothers to encourage the use of good old paladai. You can read more about it here.
As with everything, there can be mixed reaction and opinions. I would love to hear what you have to say/share. Any memories of the paladai?