The day I drank acid


I got my big, pink lower lips from my father. Nothing hereditary. Plain coincidence.

Scene I

We were staying in Jallundar, Punjab when I was all of eight years old. And the Punjabi women have a habit of forming groups and idling the time under the soothing sun (it gets pretty cold in winter) after their husbands go to work.

Our neighbours did the same. The habit is hard to break and it spills over to the summer months, when it can get a little hot. As a result the post-lunch gathering is always peppered with lime juice sessions. And my mother being the magnanimous lady that she even today is, would volunteer most of the time. Hence, when we came back from school at 3.30 p.m. we would get whatever was left-over from the convention.

My younger sister and I loved it…

Scene II

The villain of the piece, that is my father, entertained a hobby. A very unique one at that: he liked making detergent soaps, which he sometimes even used for bathing. Thanks to the popularity `Nirma washing powder` was gaining, he made yellow soaps.

He sometimes also made the antiseptic soap (by adding turmeric to his preparation), the fragrant soap (by adding some perfume to the soap mix), the fair-ness soap (by adding liquid blue), the dry-skin soap (by adding vaseline), the sex-appeal soap (by adding a paste of garlic and onion) and what not. My mother knows more about his exploits and success.

In short, it was a quid pro quo. He entertained the hobby, it entertained him in return.

The Final Act

One of the most important ingredient of soap making is caustic soda (Sodium Hydroxide, chemical nomenclature being NaOH). It is used to neutralize the fatty acid that is the other ingredient in soap making.

The story is simple, I mistook the caustic soda bottle for the lime juice that my mother had affectionately made and drank from it. Luckily, I did not gulp it down. To tackle the burning sensation, I rushed to the bath-room and poured running water…the result…a chemical reaction right on my tounge. After a lot of heat and smoke was generated the chemical reaction ceased…but my tongue and lower lip were big enough to raise hell.

It has been 20 years since. Sometimes, I am glad I drank the acid…

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