The East Indian Community

Original Inhabitants of Bombay, Salsette & Thana.


A Tale of Toddy

By C. C. M. Mendes



Should we not extend or present spirit of swadeshi to liquor, specially when toddy and the spirits derived from it can be utilized in a manner less deleterious than the foreign imported manufactures, as it used to be only a generation ago ? This may be an academic question just now. It was a live issue when I labored at it with unwearied patience for some eleven years. The hope of securing social economic and dietetic benefits for my people fortified me in my long sustained effort.


In 1913 I began writing over my signature to the Bombay English dailies, the Times of India, the Bombay Chronicle and the Advocate of India. The assistance of our own Bombay East Indian was also invoked. To this a cordial response was given in a well reasoned resume of the case in its issue of 26th October 1918. The article bore the impressive and suggestive title of “Toddy and the Poor Man’s Beer.” This is a slogan which often succeeds in England in preventing increase of taxation on Beer. Our then organ in the Press appropriately introduced into its article a memorial submitted to Government by our Association in 1894. I also sent representation to the Government.


Some of the principle points from the voluminous correspondence may be brought out. Government discontinued the manufacture of liquor from toddy, but allowed the drawing of fresh toddy, for which, however adequate facilities were not available. In place of toddy distilled liquor mhowra spirit was introduced. This is a beverage, the deleteriousness of which is expressed by the epithet “billy stink” given to it. Incidentally, a great impetus was given to the importation and sale of cheap and injurious foreign liquors. To serve the promotion of temperance the use of toddy and toddy spirit was advocated in my agitation as is done in European and American countries in the case of beer and wine by allowing for their substitution in the place of stronger and more injurious drinks. It will be communal concern to reproduce –


“Toddy is a useful article of food and drink to the Christians of Salsette and Bassein. It will be so again; it only needs encouragement. In the morning they used to have a fill of sweet refreshing toddy, which they then got for a few pies. After the drink they went to work and did not mind if they got their first meal late or not at all. If one did not have fish, meat or vegetable for his meal , he would break chapatti into the delicious sweet juice of bard, coco or kajuri tree and eat the soaked pieces and drink fresh toddy over them. He would then proceed to his work refreshed and satisfied. Out of toddy various kinds of liquor were distilled with care and attention. And in well-to-do houses these were stored generally in wooden casks. These spirits pure, unadulterated and mellow, were healthy drinks and were greatly valued. They were even used medicinally and in certain places specially by women after their confinement.”


The agitation practically closed with a reference in a letter to Government in 1923 to the evidence given by Mr. P. A. Baptista the then President of our Association, before the Committee to report on questions of the drink traffic in this Presidency and appreciation was expressed of his advocacy of liquors manufactured from palm trees. The Excise Committee was accordingly addressed.


For practical purposes it may be assumed that Government will not remove the prohibition against the manufacture of spirit from toddy on account of administrative reasons. What stands a prospect of success is the urging of facilities for the tapping and sale of fresh toddy and keeping the price at a low level. Government themselves in one of their communications to me stated that as regards facilities for the obtaining of pure toddy, it has been their policy to grant tree foot licenses as freely as possible. Here is a field for action for the reconstituted Association.


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