Aacharam, Madi and cricket

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By V Desikan


Aberporth is a small town in Ceredigion on the west coast of Wales. The reported population in 2001 was 2485. It should have been even less in 1976, when I visited that place.

I took a train from London to reach this quaint little town to undergo training in the ranges of the RAE. Being my first overseas trip, like any one else I went into a curio shop and bought lot of picture postcards. After I excitedly finished writing little personal notes to each one of my friends and relatives, I went into a small post office near by and purchased some stamps.

Then I faced a real problem. When I looked for gum or water to stick these stamps on to the  postcards, I could not find any. I went in, out and around the post office like a lost dog. Noticing my strange behaviour, the old lady who sold me the stamps asked me “Any problem son?” When I told her that I needed either gum or water for sticking my stamps, she said – “lick and stick”.

Before I could understand the meaning of her statement, she quickly grabbed all my cards and stamps from me; she licked each one of the stamps and stuck them on to the cards and returned the cards to me.

As I thanked the old lady, she gave me a friendly advice – “Son, You must taste our stamps – they have a special mint flavour.”

I had amusing thoughts in my mind about the likely reaction of my grannies and aunts, had they witnessed the above scene. I knew the answer well – they would all shouted “Narayana, Perumale, Grahaacharam, Unaacharam!”.

I belong to a conservative South Indian Brahmin family, where we are taught to observe certain practices coming under the general ambit of – “Aacharam” and madi; they are both synonymous to cleanliness and purity.

 Many of our gurus and leaders have always emphasized the need for a human being to observe Aacharam.

Saint Vyasa said: “Achara Prathamo Dharma: dharmasya prabhu achuta:” Swami Vivekananda also said the word “Aachara” means cleanliness. While Adi sankara had emphasized the need for mental purity, Ramanuja was of the opinion that one needed both mental purity as well as physical cleanliness.

As I look back, many of these practices are hygiene-based:

a) Remove your footwear before you enter a house.

b) Practice “Drink from up” technique (Thookki Kudi) – water or coffee by pouring into the mouth and not sipping

c) Bathe before you start cooking

d) Separate dinner plates for family members

e) Separate washing places for regular vessels and eating plates

f) Washing coins in water

Today, many of these are replaced by alternate practices. We ensure hygiene by using separate house slippers. We sip, use common eating plates, but take care to wash the cups and plates with detergents so that the germs are killed. We may not always bathe before cooking, but we wash our hands with soap or use a hand sanitizer.

But there are no changes in certain other practices – we still retain our individual tooth brushes and towels.

In today’s polluted world, there are no two opinions that personal hygiene is the only way we can stay healthy and alive. Coming to sports hygiene, of late many coaches and teams have pushed for better hygiene control in locker rooms and shower rooms.

But I am really surprised that in the game of cricket, hygiene is hit for six every time the game is played.

Cricket was invented in England where spit is no taboo.
“All it needed was a bit of spit and polish and we got it looking as good as new” is a typical English usage.


Generally a cricket ball is relayed from the wicket keeper to the bowler via two or three fielders. Each one of them uses his saliva in polishing one side the ball. I saw Tendulkar liberally using it in the Edgbaston test.


The reason for the above is well known. When a pace bowler wants the ball to swing, according the theories of aerodynamics, there must be one side of the ball must be shinier, or smoother, than the other side. Normal swing is achieved by keeping one side of the ball polished smooth and shiny, and delivering the ball with the polished side forward, and the seam angled in the direction of desired swing.

Cricket is a game that has evolved over the years. So many rules have been changed from its inception for various good reasons. But I am astonished that in these days and age, where sports hygiene is talked about so much, the elite board members of the ICC have not paid any attention to the necessity of removing the unhygienic and primitive practice of use of saliva on the ball. If the game really needed it, one could always find a hygienic substitute, which the umpire could hold, regulate and distribute.

I like the spirit of cricket, not the spit in it.




  1. August 16, 2011


    Thanks Mr. Mohan, Mr. Gopalram for your comments.

  2. August 16, 2011


    Really your article is superb.We have the hygiene in our genes as our great grand father,great grand mother,and their sons were maintaining madi,acharam still you can find there is some sanctity like puja room in every Tamil brahmins house and mother telling son you can have your food only after bath,even bedcoffee is not there in most of the households

  3. August 14, 2011

    Mohan G

    It is not just hygiene about many of the practices you mention. There is the caste angle, gender angle and untouchability angle etc etc. Maybe it started as hygiene, but somewhere along the way the logic was junked and it became an entrenched ritual. In society, if one set gets power they dont give up easily whether it is brahmins or men. 

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