The pleasant-tasting and mild-acting laxatives available today sometimes make me wonder how we boys stomached the unpalatable potion that was literally forced down our throats in the 1950s. My father had an abiding faith in the efficacy of castor oil as a purgative, having experienced its effectiveness as a boy when it had been forcibly administered to him too. As such, he scorned all popular brands of laxatives, opting for this vile-tasting remedy to thoroughly cleanse our digestive systems, banish constipation and rekindle our waning appetites.
Unsurprisingly, given its foul taste, my brothers and I loathed castor oil. Sometimes the very prospect of having to gulp down half a cup of it, undiluted, made us throw up. Yet it was an ordeal to which we were subjected willy-nilly twice a year, dad’s faith in the laxative being unshakeable.
On a Saturday morning, we would reluctantly queue up before dad, our faces eloquently mirroring our disgust. Often we would jockey to be the last in line, hoping his stock of castor oil would run out. Then, as he poured out a generous measure of the yellow concoction, our domestic help Hassan would pinion our hands behind us, one by one, so that we couldn’t knock the cup out of dad’s hand. And down the hatch the ‘slime’ would be forced as one writhed helplessly, making the wryest of faces that would have been a cartoonist’s delight! Anyone spitting out or throwing up the horrible potion would be promptly given another dose. And, what was worse, no sweets were permitted to neutralise the nauseating taste.
Predictably, about two hours later, our stomachs would begin to churn and rumble, audibly and ominously, signalling that the purgative was at work. And it did! Of course, we did try to somehow wriggle out of the ordeal — feigning a splitting headache, acute stomach pain or even giddiness. But dad shrewdly saw through all our ruses — apparently, he himself had resorted to these as a boy! Once, we even conspired to pool our paltry pocket-money and bribe the shopkeeper down the road into not stocking castor oil. However, the plan was never implemented for fear of dad’s punitive cane.
Once, as D-Day approached, in sheer desperation, we concealed the bottle of castor oil within the folds of dad’s umbrella, confident that he would never look for it there. However, my youngest brother spilled the beans after wresting an assurance from dad that he would be given only half the normal dose of oil.
Quite understandably, few sing the praises of castor oil now — I’m sure youngsters today wouldn’t touch it even with a bargepole. Yet, repulsive though it was, the fact remains that it was indeed an effective purgative that did revive our flagging appetites. No wonder dad swore by its efficacy and administered it dictatorially!