The era of bathing bars or ‘toilette’ soaps, as they were more popularly known then, is one that folks from the eighties and nineties would surely hold close to their hearts.
We take a look at the iconic objects that collectively defined the Indian experience from 1950 onwards. From things that brought the world to our living rooms to tasty treats, take a nostalgic journey down memory lane!
Do you remember shopping for household items with your entire family, when you were a child?
If yes, then you would probably also recall the inevitable fight with your sibling, about which brand was best—even when it came to something as standard as bathing soap.
Back then, bathing soaps were considered to be functional items and had to be affordable. A single bar would be used by the entire family for all purposes and would last for a while.
Of course, today there is an overabundance of choices when it comes to soap, including the ones that cater to different parts of the body!
However, have you ever wondered what did we use before bathing soaps successfully staked claim over the Indian market?
Well, to begin with, soap nuts (reetha) were widely used as cleansing agents across the country for centuries.
Shikakai and Besan (gram flour), and an array of herbs like turmeric, tulsi (holy basil), neem bark and leaves, lotus petals, and sandalwood paste were also used by our ancestors to maintain the health of their skin.
These would phase out soon after the Lever Brothers from England introduced modern soaps or ‘toilet’ soaps, as they would come to be quickly known, in India, during the late nineteenth century.
Almost a century later, these would become an indispensable household commodity for the Indian population.
However, the era of bathing bars or ‘toilet’ soaps, as they were more popularly known then, is one that folks from the eighties and nineties would surely hold close to their hearts.
It’s no joke—I’m sure every family had their favourite because ours surely did!
Liril, Hamam, Lux, Margo, Medimix, Lifebuoy, Pears, Cinthol, Mysore Sandal, Rexona—there were plenty of brands to choose from and however silly that may sound, we formed a separate association with each one of them!
Soaps like Hamam, Margo and Medimix came with the ‘all-natural’ tag, which made them a family favourite (whether the kids liked it or not.)
Neem-based Margo left behind a bitter trace on the body that would leave kids angry—especially those of us who bathed right before a meal and ate with our hands.
When Pears, the soap eponymously named after its creator, Andrew Pears, was introduced in the Indian market, we were fascinated beyond our wits.
Never before had we seen a bar of soap that was translucent!
But the “glycerin-enriched” soap was as evasive as a rat in the attic. We could never manage to hold it for too long; it would always slip. Even so, my family has remained loyal to the brand, till this day.
Did you know that Pears was first produced and sold in 1807 and that it was the world’s first mass-market translucent soap?
Then there was Liril and its iconic advertisement featuring the ‘Liril girl’ which mesmerised the entire country.
Admit it, all of us have imagined prancing under a waterfall at an exotic location, just like the Liril girl!
Wipro’s Santoor, with its orange colour and faint sandalwood fragrance, promised everlasting beauty but set somewhat unrealistic expectations.
Their advertisements, which honestly felt like a bit of a stretch, always featured women who were mothers but were always mistaken for college girls.
Interestingly, the super-mommy ads are still in the business!
A rather funny exception is the Lifebuoy soap that had a loyal customer base but was perhaps never really used for bathing.
A companion of toilets, this red, rectangular bar never could break free from that tag and instead, grew on that identity.
Funnily enough, this is a soap that doctors across the country unanimously endorse! Remember, “Lifebuoy hai jahan, tandurusti hai wahan”?
Finally, we come to Lux, the star amongst bathing bars.
The original ‘toilet’ soap, Lux was one that was marketed as the ‘beauty soap of film stars’ and roped in every reigning lady from the Hindi film industry to wow its audience into submission.
A few years ago, Lux even featured Shahrukh Khan in an advertisement!
The times have surely changed, and bathing bars have become less popular, with liquid soaps and body washes having captured a large share of the market.
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But for people like us who grew up in the eighties and nineties, these ‘family’ soaps have a nostalgic value that no body wash or hand wash can ever create.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)