who put the toy in the binaca toothpaste box?

everything is complex, nothing is without its politics, yet when the voice you know so well does its familiar lilt and stretch and sound segues to the next hit song, or you seize and peruse the toy that’s just popped out of a toothpaste box, that joy, that spike of thrill, there’s no complication in it. no politics either. which is why perhaps the mind grabs it all and puts it away in a safe place, knowing one day, it’ll bring it out and have a great time playing. memories… are they like those little binaca plastic toys?

remember them? and if you do, you can’t not remember ameen sayani’s voice or the binaca geetmala. the binaca song garland, translating literally. the songs were lovely, i’m sure, but at eight and nine and eleven, i think why i loved mr sayani’s voice really was because it instantly conjured up the cute toys.

in the beginning though, the toys weren’t made of plastic. i seem to remember a rooster of a clay like material with bright yellow and red paint markings. but soon enough plastic took over. not a new invasion this. and a plethora of rhinos, panthers, hippos, monkeys, cats, parrots, giraffes, poodles, snails, tapirs (yes, the armadillo), dachshunds with tails pointing straight, horses, foxes, frogs and penguins, fish and deer, slouching bisons, camels, tortoise and donkeys, swans, ducks, sea horse, pelicans and cranes, wolf and hawk, sheep dogs, lizards, yaks, snails, sloth bears, chimpanzee, gorilla, mouse and elephants, creatures great and small, fauna of every clime and latitude and colour came home in, of all things, the toothpaste box. how we waited for the binaca toothpaste to arrive.

children looking forward to toothpaste.

really, who came up with this idea? not only were we eagerly looking into the box to get our hands on the next animal… there was even a kangaroo with a joey in its pouch… we wanted the tube used up fast so that the next carton could be opened. my mother was a firm believer in the power of the lion of the toothpaste jungle, colgate. she’d never consider anything but the mighty one for her three wild ‘uns, but thankfully she could never resist a miniature. how to refuse a teeny hippopotamus, or a lilliputian lion? binaca loped onto our bathroom shelf despite the unchallenged rule of colgate. strange things happen in forests and mother’s minds. and what we do without that.

but really, who thought of the idea? in a world stuffed to the gills with marketing stories, pontifications, geniuses, case studies, jargon and up-collaring, how come no one seems to know who first mulled, why not a tiny tiger in the toothpaste box? or a croc, an iguana, a monkey, a cockatoo? kids would love it. they might learn almost effortlessly to gauge the vastness and variegation of the animal kingdom. and who knows, we might even get to compete with the big guy?

who thought of the binaca toy?

the mystery of the jungle and the ocean is deep and romantic, too much information might ruin it… perhaps that’s why there’s no record of this person anywhere that i can reach. the toys were sitting in their den in the mind, undisturbed for years, when suddenly they all came careering and scampering out, chasing each other, hurtling, galloping, flying, swimming, hunting. a veritable migration. my brother-in-law had just moved to a new place and was going through packing cases he had left untouched for a long time. he came home one day and said, he’d found the box with my husband’s binaca toys.

immediately the two fifty something year old men started arguing about the number of toys.

there was no need to screech and roar at each other, however. the number was clearly written on the aluminium box in which they’d been safely hoarded. the year was marked too. and my husband had actually signed below that. yes, he had ownership of this real estate. this universe.

i opened the box and the toys leaped out at me. i wanted to steal them and run away. instead, i smiled like an angel, tried to look grown up and said, they smelled of naphthalene, i’d wash them. my husband growled. i was apparently not to do that. i quietly kept the box away for a few days, then washed the toys. had a feeling the crocodile approved of my sneaky ways. i examined the little creatures carefully, envious of this man’s collection. i peered at the iguana’s spines, i counted the number of cats and poodles, i tried to guess the names of all the animals. and i wondered who thought of them.

binaca geetmala used to be aired from radio ceylon. later, all india radio took over. the songs were always lovely, ameen sayani sounded happy and involved, and cheery in his own distinctive way. the programme must have generated high recall and good business for binaca toothpaste. as i’m sure did these blue, orange, pink, green, furry, striped, scaly, creepy, land and water dwelling, amphibious, arctic, equatorial, tropical, flying, wallowing, scampering, burrowing animals. but one fine day, they vanished. the toys stopped. then binaca became cibaca… then the usual story of the demise of a brand happened.

a lot is known about the binaca geetmala. ameen sayani has given many interviews. there are commemorative cd collections. articles in respected newspapers are easily accessed on the net. already on blogs i am seeing that the usual social media element of politics has found its way here too. but nothing much about the toys. it was a major marketing thing of its time. and yet no claiming of it. i’ll let the details be, but really i’d love to know whose idea it was. who had that leap in her or his head. and did this person know that the joy of it would outlast many marketing campaigns, stay undiminished for years? maybe i’ll ask the walrus to find out.


indrani’s index

these little creatures were not seen as ads for binaca. more as merchandise, freebies perhaps. but they worked as ads really, and cost much less i bet.





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  • Reply
    November 14, 2018 at 12:53 am

    What a lovely read those days when the radio ruled our homes with music that had loads of ethos and harmony and I remember Bianca geetmala and those animals we got. But it reminds of an era where men were allowed to feel and cry and play a game of marbles with each other today it about having perfect scores and having experience even when your applying for your first job and not allowed to show your real personality

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      November 15, 2018 at 12:40 pm

      thanks, archana, good to see you. glad you read this. you are right, another era… and without any romanticising, there was a little more simplicity and kindness there. now a crazy search for perfection. tiring and often demeaning. nothing is allowed to remain real. everything is forced into a template… a model. big loss for the children.

  • Reply
    rhea sinha
    November 20, 2018 at 2:45 am

    Indi di have been meaning to read since I saw the pics. I vaguely recollect owning some of these too, but definitely not 192! Don’t remember if it was my mother’s or father’s since it couldn’t really be from a toothpaste I have no recollection of. Could it? And did I read correctly, a certain someone growled when you suggesting washing them? Haha shades of our hero everywhere..

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      November 20, 2018 at 9:44 am

      thanks for reading, rhea. so your parents had these toys too, me smiling. hope you had fun with them. yeah, the fellow growls and grimaces a lot, but without showing any signs of being a hero, huh. nowadays he’s roped me in to help at his office, pure secretarial stuff, imagine what fun i must be having. just now when he saw me staring at the comp, he asked what i was up to. i said, i was just doing things i never thought i’d have to, he laughed (i think a little cruelly) and said, ah no time to stare at your man the whole day. i am now wondering if this office thing was all along a ruse to get me away from writing stuff i enjoy… and staring.

      • Reply
        rhea sinha
        November 23, 2018 at 2:45 am

        Okay so he is cruelly enjoying making you work in office when you want to go stare at some other man. Your life is perfect I declare Indi Di.

        • Reply
          indrani robbins
          November 25, 2018 at 8:47 pm

          🙂 teehee.

  • Reply
    December 8, 2018 at 2:02 am

    Indi di,this is so lovely..Though i don’t know things existed in those days,i faintly recollect seeing the toys and amma always exclaimed about the radio ceylon and it’s standard and pleasant programs..She always says that
    those were golden days, how i wish you could know and feel the essence of those golden days..From her talks i too have felt that the sheer beauty of those days are unparalleled

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      December 23, 2018 at 10:29 am

      hi gprs, sorry, been away, so replying late. thank you, glad you enjoyed reading this one. about what your mother says, i think i may be her age or a little older even… maybe it’s nostalgia, i don’t know, but there is something untouched and clean and hope filled about the sixties and seventies. not that everything was perfect or that nothing was wrong anywhere, or that people weren’t suffering or poor or that injustice wasn’t around and doing its thing, but there was a quality to that time that is pretty much gone now. sometimes i try to reach out and catch a corner of it or listen patiently for its sound… seems to be there for an instant… but not long. a mirage maybe, or a time now just within us, those who were there. i so want to let my daughter feel a little bit of that world, even as she strides into the what’s around us and makes her own world.

  • Reply
    Ts MALIK
    February 16, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks indrani ji I still remember & going to start production of same this year n have collected approx 100 plus only

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      February 17, 2019 at 12:49 am

      thanks for reading. and great to hear about your collection.

  • Reply
    Bala chandran
    May 29, 2020 at 10:51 pm

    I have that rooster! Lost several over the decades. Still cherish the few I have. I started collecting them when I was in 8th standard, 1968- 69. Thank you! In fact, I was about to make an FB post on it and just googled for Binaca toothpaste. Didn’t care for the paste much, honest!

    • Reply
      indrani robbins
      June 8, 2020 at 10:03 am

      thank you. so glad you read. those toys bringg back such happy memories. another time, another world. the paste, at that age, the paste was immaterial, haha.

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