If I were to down a shot for each time amma said, ‘In our day’, I’d be worse off than a commode-hugging drunk. No complaints, though. For someone who thinks the present is more tedious than the past and the future, it’s great having family members double up as time machines.
On one occasion, amma regaled me with tales of breakfasts that equalled fresh bread sourced from friendly neighbourhood bakers. Unsliced bread, she said, was the best thing since sliced bread. And the accompaniment giving it wings was either Polson’s or Anchor butter – but almost always the first.
Reams are written about the fallen behemoth that was Polson’s. Ruth Heredia’s The Amul Story chronicled the Polson’s-Amul war like few did, until Verghese Kurien told all in his I Too Had a Dream. Giant-killer-turned-giant Amul may have booted Pestonji Edulji Dalal-owned Polson’s from the market, but it can’t do so from collective memory. Kurien was forced to use diacetyl and salt in his butter to cater to a market so used to the Polson’s flavour, it wouldn’t look any other way.
Polson’s USP wasn’t just its taste. Amma fondly remembers the gift coupons that came with each pack. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Polson’s was a forerunner of the gift coupon redemption system here. “The more you collected, the more you redeemed. If you had enough, you could buy a mixer or toaster,” says actor, author and food show host Kunal Vijayakar, harking back to when his grandmother – like thousands of Indians – made Polson’s coupon collecting a habit. “She collected boxes of them. So she was obviously going for the kill,” he jokes.
Sometime in 2012-13, Polson’s fans went into a tizzy after hearing the butter was coming back. Some thought it was an urban legend by people stuck in a time warp. “I’d walked into a shop selling Polson’s! Nobody believes me when I tell them I’d seen it,” Vijayakar reminisces.
This shop is none other than 125-year-old Farm Products in Colaba, Bombay’s oldest cold storage. And Ronald Rocha, who mans the store with mum Luiza, confirms that Polson’s had indeed made a comeback. The butter was relaunched by a Polson’s relative, but the rest of the family, he says, wasn’t amused. So Polson’s died, yet again. “People bought eight, 10, even 15 half-kilo blocks in the six months it was there. I used to wonder where they’d keep all that butter!” he laughs.
The taste of Polson’s sour butter may be fresh in the minds of some, but Vijayakar thinks the love for it runs deeper than that. The Polson’s memory, he feels, is one of a better time, a simpler time…
… and a better Bombay.