Presumably, most of the readers of this blog are well past their milk-drinking days and won’t take offence when I say that milk and I have never quite gotten along. It’s an uneasy alliance having its roots in broken promises that date back to a much earlier time. As a child, as much as I may have hated its taste, I would make sure to faithfully partake of my daily dose of lactose misery in the hope it would deliver on at least some of the seemingly earnest promises my mother had made – a glass a day was supposed to make me grow taller, much stronger and eventually land a seat at one of the IITs. Many years later and not much taller, I am still stuck with dumbbells in the vicinity of 2 kg, and the closest I have come to an IIT is the chaiwala’s stall right opposite its front gate.
But irrespective of the love-hate relationship this writer may have had , there can be no denying the fact that milk, in all its varied forms, has become a part of our daily dietary routine in a way few other things can possibly be. After all, what would Punjabi – the de facto national -cuisine be without the ubiquitous presence of Paneer in it, an ingredient they have even managed to turn into an instrument of sub-continental bonding. Whether it’s Paneer Peshawari, Kashmiri Paneer or the Amrritsari version, when it comes to cottage cheese, our many differences often take a back seat. And while our comrades in Bengal may have more pressing issues to be concerned with, they have never allowed their favourite mishti dahi to come between them and the next revolution they may have lined up for the day.
So what does it take to bring together more than a billion people across the length and breadth of a country as diverse in its tastes as India? For the answer, you need not look any further than the headquarters of the National Dairy Development Board at Anand in Gujarat. Set up in 1965 by an act of Parliament, the NDDB has for nearly five decades ensured that come rain or shine, kids across the entire nation continue to get their daily fill of calcium at bed-time. Through Operation Flood, a landmark initiative launched in 1970, it helped transform India into the largest milk producing country in the world while simultaneously playing a critical role in helping millions of farmers move out of their marginal existence by setting up cooperatives that ensured them a steady stream of income. With current production at 108 million tonnes and an annual growth rate, which at 4 % is twice the global average, milk is one of the few nutritional sources that we have actually got enough of to pass around the ever widening table of consumers throughout the country. But with a fast growing population that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon, even our no.1 rank won’t be enough to keep the tank filled for much longer. Keeping this in mind, the NDDB in 2006 embarked upon an ambitious programme called the National Dairy Plan (NDP), with the express purpose of increasing the total production of milk to 180 mn tonnes in the next ten years- as ambitious as that may seem, with an unparalleled track record to boast of, one would be ill-advised to bet against them getting there.
Hopefully, ten years would also be enough time for me to get over any unresolved issues that may still be pending between me and my glass of milk.Growing past the six feet barrier may be out of the question, but I surely could do with a few more grey cells instead of grey hair in the top drawer.