CHLOROPHYLL Remember it at
all? If you dont, you must be under the votingage.
For those who are older it was, for many years, a factor
of daily life.
What on earth was
chlorophyll? It was a major breakthrough in science, or
so it was projected: a secret of nature discovered by
highly qualified research scholars working in famous
laboratories; an ingredient contained in green grass and
leaves which possessed a magic quality of eradicating
smells. If you brushed your teeth with a toothpaste
containing an adequate quantity of it, your mouth would
keep smelling fresh and sweet till the next time you
brushed your teeth with the same toothpaste.
Before the discovery of chlorophyll,
toothpastes were either white- in token of purity
- or pink - indicating that they were laced
with cleansing chemicals. Now they had to go green,
because green, after all, was the colour of grass and
leaves which were the source of chlorophyll. You could
munch on garlic pods as though they were peanuts or
chain-smoke Dindigul cigars and have no scruples about
doing a cheek-to-cheek tango with the girl of your
dreams. The green stuff in your toothpaste made sure that
you did not exhale whiffs of either garlic or tabacco.
The consequence was that no sane person would risk using
a toothpaste not fortified with chlorophyll.
So whatever happened to it?-where has it gone?
Well, the fact is that it hasnt gone anywhere at
all; it is still very much there where it was supposed to
be, in the green of the grass and leaves. But as far as
its smell-eradicating properties were concerned, it
wasnt ever there; it was a concept created by some
Rambos of the advertising fraternity as a sure-fire sales
pitch on the principle that with aggressive advertising,
you could sell even ice-making machines to Eskimos living
After all nature was fresh and sweet-yes? And what
was the colour of nature-green?-yes?. So make
a green-coloured toothpaste, add some particles of an
extract from green vegetation as a safeguard against a
case for fraudulent advertising and mount an advertising
campaign on the scale of the Normandy landing. How could
it go wrong?
It didnt. The wave lasted for more than a decade.
It began to recede when rival toothpaste-makers jumped on
the gravy-train and after that there was no percentage
left in it any more. By then people had begun to ask
awkward questions. Why do cattle who eat green stuff all
day long have mouths that smell?-and:
Why reeks the goat on yonder hill?
When he feeds all day on chlorophyll?
Oh, well. After all it is the job of ad-men to make us
buy things by persuading us that theyre worth
buying. Chlorophyll was no more a fraud or a racket than
hundreds of beauty products which are in the market
which, too, claim miraculous properties: lotions to
retard the aging process; to make oily skins drier, or
dry skins moist; make hair grow on onion-bald heads;
change the colour of Dravidian-dark skins into
pigment-less pale pink. It is just that this one caught
on like wild fire. The arm-twisters of the advertising
companies are not to blame for the fads that the gullible
public falls for.
Why, fast-talking lawyers are just as aggressive in their
own field of arm-twisting. A recent advertisement in
Forbes magazine highlighted their capabilities. It showed
a photograph of a human lung X-ray, under a caption:
no doctor can find evidence of a damaged lung from
this photograph. But a lawyer will.
This capability was made evident in the case against the
manufacturers of silicon breast implants. After hundreds
of thousands of women had availed themselves of these
devices, authorities in America passed orders forbidding
their use on the grounds that the device had not been
And this order itself seems to have given an opportunity
to the commandos of the legal profession-the
injury-lawyers-to round up hundreds of thousands of
women in a class-action suit for damages from the
ill-effects caused by their breast implants and argued
the case so convincingly as to have induced the trial
judge to instruct the makers of such devices to pay
out the largest class-action settlement in history: Four
and a quarter billion dollars Not enough, argued
the victims and to settle its part of their
claim, one of these manufacturers, Dow-Corning, forked
out an additional 3.2 billion dollars.
While all these suits were being contested in the courts,
the research organizations of various Governments as well
as of private institutions with impeccable credentials
such as the Mayo Clinic and the Harvard Medical Centre in
America had been carrying out independent research into
the possibility of the damaging effects of breast
implants. As many as twenty of these studies are now
complete and have reached the same conclusion: There is
little or no reason to believe that breast implants cause
diseases of any kind.
Meanwhile, of course, those seven billion dollars forked
out by the manufacturers of breast implants have, as it
were, been absorbed by the economy. Meaning that they
have been irrecoverably spent by those who had signed up
for the class action and by their lawyers who had proved
their case in a court of law beyond all reasonable
O.K. For making us buy a toothpaste said to contain a
chemical which would rid our mouths of foul smells, we
can point a finger at manipulative ad-men, and for making
the manufacturers of breast implants shell out those
billions of dollars for non-existent damages we can
blame-or applaud-injury lawyers. But who sold
us psychoanalysis?-what the Americans call
head-shrinking? No one. We ourselves ran after it and
adopted it as a cure-all for our mental worries. Whatever
we did, or did not do, was never our fault, but of some
trauma that lay buried deep in our sub-conscious. That
was its general premise. So the cure lay in unburdening
yourself of the problem by identifying it-and the
man-or woman-who would guide you through the
process was your shrink.
The rich and the famous, film stars and authors,
playwrights and artists, kept the shrinks in business. I
remember as a young man being spellbound by a film called
Spellbound, directed by the master of mystery films,
Alfred Hitchcok. The handsome, six-foot-tall, strapping,
all-American hero was tormented and on the verge of
insanity when that clever-clever psychoanalyst took him
in hand and got him to talk-talk-talk. And, lo and
behold! It turned out that the problem lay in something
that had happened in his childhood-a brother or a
schoolmate had plunged to death during some horseplay.
But of course, once the problem had been
identified-well, pinpointed-it melted away.
Talk-talk-talk, just babble away, to someone you paid
good money to just to listen, was the cure.
As the ancient Romans went to Delphi to seek advice from
the oracle, as our own political leaders, business
tycoons, sports and film stars consult gurus, so did the
creative people of America-novelists, playwrights,
painters, singers-as also the glamorous
people-film and stage stars, went for their
sessions with their shrinks, asking such inane questions
as: Why do I find it difficult to finish a book
Im working on?
Which was precisely the question asked by quite a
successful writer called Adam Gopnik, of his New York
shrink, who, Gopnik tells us, was touchy,
prejudiced, opinionated, impatient, often bored, usually
high-handed, and brutally bigoted. And these
attributes somehow qualified him as one of the most
sought after shrinks of his time. Gopnik himself went to
him twice a week for forty-five-minute sessions, for six
years!-and paid by the minute just to be allowed to
lie down on the sofa and talk about his problems to the
doctor who, Gopnik reveals, was inclined to doze off
while listening, and tended to come out with some
blindingly fatuous maxims.
The latest thinking on psychoanalysis is summed up in the
words of one of its most vociferous detractors who is
Gopniks own sister. In a letter to The New York Review
she says: There is nothing to be said in defence of
psychonalysis that couldnt also be said in defence
of magic and astrology.
Or of our godmen!