One of my friends works in a tribal school in a remote village of the Gajapati district of Odisha. The village, Koinpur, is home to the Savara tribe. They have their own language and a fascinating culture. The region is however, ridden with child malnutrition. Cerebral Malaria, a highly lethal form of malaria, is endemic to this region.

Seen in the photo is a palm tree from which the villagers extract sap which is either drunk as it is or heated slightly before drinking which converts it into toddy. The sap is extracted overnight and is collected in the pot hung on the tree. The toddy from many trees is then collected in a larger pot and the entire family including women and children, gather around and drink together. This is the daily morning and evening ritual for many tribal families. We had the privilege of partaking in the drinking ritual with a family. The toddy tasted sweet and delicious. The first sip itself warms your throat. After drinking a generous amount, my head was buzzing slightly and I felt relaxed as hell but not drunk. It was a moonlit night and the mountains around us were casting silvery shadows. That night, I slept like a rock and woke up fresh as a lark. No hangover, no depression.

However, due to the advent of commercial and highly addictive alcohol, many people are abandoning this practice. Pair that with the taboo imposed on toddy by upper caste people and government servants and it won’t be long before this practice is completely given up.

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