I was bemused to know that noted author Robert Fisk, in his book ‘The Great War For Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East’ has written that even while hiding in mountains and caves in Sudan and Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden used to brush his teeth with the twigs of Miswak, a product of Salvadora Persica tree called as Arak in Arabic. Going through his routine, I flashed back to my memories of Neem twigs used for brushing my teeth whenever I visited my native village in Farrukhabad. Time has passed by since then and in now hyper consumerist culture, the tooth brush and toothpaste are sold aplenty even at village corner shops. One daily routine of every body in the modern world revolves around finding a tooth brush and tooth paste as soon as one wakes up. While a tooth brush may be a twig of Miswak, Neem or Babool or a modern handle with bristles, the supporting substance may be a paste or a powder.
This daily routine at that morning hour when you were just out of your bed and your eyes were half open is no pleasant experience though. I can say with four decades of brushing-my-teeth-daily-experience, that it’s not an enjoyable act. That it is good for health and hygiene is indisputable, but it’s an activity which is done as a sort of personal duty and not something to be cheery about. If you add to this morning duty, the need and the rigmarole of brushing your teeth before going to bed, it becomes a real tortuous task.
When I was a kid, I remember brushing my teeth in morning only. The wash basins were not at that time and I used to squat down besides a whole in the wall in bathroom. I used to quickly brush my teeth and come down to see my Amma. I would then use pallu of her cotton saaree, to wipe of the water from my face. She always offered me that even before I could extend my hand. It was such a motherly affection which drenched both of us. This routine is not there and I have grown older to use her pallu, though she would not mind for sure her pallu being used to wipe the face of her son, still.
The habit of morning tooth brush gradually got enshrined in the psyche, the bigger challenge came in the shape of very essential but very detestable need to brush the teeth, before going to bed. Its utility is again indisputable and is more than the morning brush. But to brush your teeth night by night just before going to bed is really one task, I hate most. This habit forced by scientific facts and boosted by bombardment of toothpaste and tooth brush commercials is with me for last 30 years. In fact I have become hostage to this habit. Now If I don’t brush, I curse myself the next morning and if I do brush, I curse myself for doing that in night itself. But every night for last 30 years I have gone through the Hamletian dilemma of prince of Denmark; to be or not to be or simply to brush or not to brush the teeth.
The Indian habit of eating sweet dish after the meals is phenomenal and we want to retain the taste of the food by rolling out tongue in the far corners of mouth and by trying to feel the taste of food from smallest molecules of the food tugged somewhere in the teeth or gums. So, who in the world, would like to brush his or her teeth after eating the most delicious pudding or hot Gazar Ka Halwa or chocolate ice cream or even Gur(jaggery) on a wintry night. Who would like to supplant that sweet little taste with that of a chemicals laced toothpaste.
While my resistance to brush before bed is not waning any time soon, the real and fierce resistance comes from the two kids who have been forced, to join me in this venture or a misadventure as per them. Those sweet two, after finishing the meal would deliberately escape from me and would try to slip into bed and would take a comforter up to their neck and would pretend to be sleeping. When I will enter the room, I would look at them and would inquire little loudly, if the kids have slept?. They would not budge an inch and would even hold their breath to pretend deep sleep. I would unnerve them by saying loudly that I had got a gift for the kids while coming back from the office and I forgot to give them.They would listen but still not move. I would then say loudly to myself that, O. K., I will give them to some one else. The kids would finally be trapped and would spring from the bed, asking for gift. Obviously once out, I would ask them to brush their teeth. They would initially get sulking, but my persistence and mild admonition will usually prevail and they would go for the detestable act of brushing their teeth in the bathroom. They would finish it off though in shortest possible time and would rush to bed. This practice becomes even more challenging in winters and I would feel little awkward to either entice or pressurize them to brush. I would relent sometimes when I put myself in their shoes. I too, would not enjoy to leave my bed midway after warming up the quilt with own body warmth. In contrast, I really find out it amusing that Osama was so particular in brushing his teeth even in those mountains and rocks and perhaps even enjoyed it. He was surely a different man!.