The Lime and The Lorry, and a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean


 The lime is an integral part of the lorry! Believed to be an essential part of the vehicle, it is just short of being officially classified as a spare part! The Tamil comedian Vivek, created his immensely popular satire take on the issue in an early 2000 movie when he claimed, “The Lorry which doesn’t run on 750 spare parts inside is going to run because of the lemon?” Well, the translation barely does any justice to his original joke. 

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Food based superstitious beliefs are not new. From not eating during an eclipse to not eating certain foods on certain days have ruled those gullible enough to follow them without question, but these weren’t always superstitious. Like most superstitions, there was a reason for which these practices came up. I guess, the correct definition of superstition is a practice that is continue long after the reason for the practice no longer applies.  Sometimes though, we think those reasons don't exist anymore! 

Where does the tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean come in this equation? St. Helena is the wonder island to which our lime hanging in front of the lorry can be traced to. Or not? 

During the days of exploring when GPS powered ships and Supersonic jets weren't exactly the order of the day, explorers spent months at sea. Sea Farers though were subject to a rather unique disease that seemed to appear out of nowhere. In fact, it started off with the label of ‘lazy’. Scurvy attacked with a bout of intense lethargy, that the sailors were punished for being lazy. And when the skin started peeling off, they thought that being lazy at sea attacked their skins and the salty waters couldn’t be tolerated by those who don’t work their backsides off. 

The accounts of survivors are nothing short of gruesome. Especially those who got the disease at the fag end of their trips and were lucky enough to be home alive makes our problems pale in comparison. Their description of having black blood and cutting off skin to kill the demons are best left out of this article and for the students of history and medicine.

So back to St. Helena. A sort of pit stop for the European sailors looking to go east, this little island is where the sailors got some fresh fruits and supplies. 

Enter Dr. James Lind. This smart doctor decided he was going to create the study that would one day save mankind (well, not really) and keep explorations going. He divided those afflicted with the disease into five groups and fed them each a specific kind of food. For some, the disease worsened, but he found out that those who ate fresh fruits made dramatic recoveries. There are some accounts in history suggesting that those who were affected and were given fruits had a particular liking for oranges and lemons. 

And thus was the discovery of Scurvy, a deadly disease with a simple cure. Lemons. Much later, the annals of medicine have documented the lack of Vitamin C as the cause for Scurvy. 

Ships then arrived with tons of lemons loaded in the front of the decks to keep them handy. Ships with lemons had fewer deaths and  it is no surprise that they became the symbol of good luck! A practice that continues well into the 20th century with our lorries! 

But there is an interesting twist to this. Look up Scurvy and you will find much about the famed doctor and the tragedies of last quarter of time after Christ. Dr. James Lind arrived into this picture in the 18th century, but Hippocrates has described this well before time as we know it today. The Egyptians have documented it 1550 BC. That lemons cured the disease rather quickly has been learnt and relearnt. The proof for that ?

Depiction of the Battle of Kedah

Well, the Cholas invaded the SriVijaya empire, which is modern day Indonesia around the 10th century. In fact, they took a longer sea route and baffled their ill prepared opponents who weren’t expecting them to take that route.They didn’t know they could take this route and hence it was the only poorly guarded side of their empire. This route has also historians in a fix about how they knew this route because it wasn’t a blind shot. It was a planned attack on a rather friendly empire aimed at plunder, and probably how idly made its way to India, but let’s not get into that. 

There are no accounts of Scurvy (obviously, not the name, but the disease with such symptoms). The same applies to our friends from South America when they undertook long travels. The Aztecs, the Mayans and the Nazcas, were probably way ahead of their times, and there doesn’t appear to mention of a similar disease. Was it simply because the South Americans rubbed lime on corn? What did the Cholas do to prevent the disease? We might never find out, because we aren’t really looking for an answer, but clearly food as medicine has more than just novelty value. 

And lemons continue to be a symbol of good luck!


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Grub Waz: The Lime and The Lorry, and a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean
The Lime and The Lorry, and a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean
Grub Waz
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