A Slippery Remedy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 19, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 19, 2011

TANGENTSBy Ihtisham Kabir

A Slippery Remedy

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Mr. Howladar Showing Aloe Vera Leaf. Photo: Ihtisham Kabir

Legend says that Alexander the Great treated his wounded soldiers with it, ancient Egyptian queens used it for beauty and Mahatma Gandhi drank it for strength when fasting. It calms the stomach and soothes minor burns. Its name is featured on numerous skin-care products worldwide. For ten Taka, you too can have a large glass of this stuff of legends from local street vendors.
It is Aloe Vera, known locally as Ghrito Kanchon.
One morning, I find one such vendor, Mr. Ibrahim Howladar, near Mirpur 1. He has set up shop facing the stream of people heading to work and school.
To make his concoction, he picks one of the long green leaves that are displayed prominently. The Aloe Vera is sandwiched in a layer between the skins of the leaf. He slices off the top skin with a knife, exposing the gelatinous substance which he scrapes into a container using a comb-like tool.
He mixes in several other ingredients to make his sherbet. These include kali jira, crushed seeds of jaam and mango, crushed bark of arjun trees, root of shimul tree, and ishobguler bhushi. Stirring everything together, he passes the mixture through a strainer. The result: a glass of murky brown liquid that customers gulp down a bit too quickly.
I asked Ibrahim about its benefits. “Some drink it as a laxative and some as a tonic to feel better,” he says. He also mentions its diuretic effect.
“I sell anywhere from 50-100 glasses a day, mostly to men. They come from all walks of life,” he says. Indeed, as I watch, several office workers, a student and a rickshaw-wallah stop by for their morning glassful.
The customers have varied taste. One prefers sweet, another salty, and a third picks his own ingredients. Ibrahim obliges everyone, adding gur (molasses) or salt as needed.
He tells me his leaves come from plants in Rajshahi or Natore. The product is available year-round and grown all over Bangladesh. Once leaves are harvested, new leaves grow from the same root.
“I sell from six to ten in the morning, then again from four in the afternoon,” he says. The middle of the day is spent buying ingredients.
Ibrahim hails from Barisal and has two sons and two daughters. One son is disabled, having lost his speech to typhoid as a child. He has two grandchildren by his daughters.
I ask him his age. He is taken aback and frowns, trying to calculate. Then he smiles. “I know. I was thirteen during the Muktijuddho (1971),” he says.
I wander away for an hour chasing photos. When I return, his setup is still there, but Ibrahim has disappeared. He returns presently, cheeks bulging with a fresh khilli of paan. After buying a large leaf of Aloe Vera, I bid goodbye. At home I find the gelatine to be thoroughly bland. Now I know why people spice up this slippery remedy before consuming it!

ihtishamkabir@yahoo.com
The Daily Star

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