It has the most poetic genesis really. When Farheen* (32) from our textile group was pregnant with her first child, she and her co-sister went to a garden. There had been a fresh spell of rain and the air was embalmed with the smell of wet earth. Farheen reminisces, “It was the most tempting fragrance. I just reached out and tasted the damp mud.” Many morsels of mud later, her co-sister reprimanded her but also, unwittingly, mentioned to her that chalk is available for a rupee or two at the local channawalla along with peanuts and cornflakes. Farheen went to buy it, ate it and thus Farheen started loving chalk.
Farheen is afflicted with a particular disorder known as pica in which the sufferer consumes non-food items such as soil, chalk or paper. Pica is the Latin word for the magpie, which is well known for its unusual eating habits. It is considered a disease as the victims eat these substances to compensate a mineral deficiency (such as that of calcium, iron or zinc). Pica is generally seen in the lower economic strata, in children and in pregnant women. In young children, soil pica is very common and you will very easily find many children who eat mud from a playground. In these cases, pica gets combined with a variety of other infections caused by parasites and worms found in the soil.
In Farheen’s case, the addiction has lasted well beyond pregnancy and there was even a stage when both she and her son Baba had pica. “While I love chalk, Baba used to eat glass bangles and pencil lead”, Farheen says laughingly. Baba weaned himself off the habit as he grew up but Farheen still persists in spite of unanimous disapproval.
If you go to a channawalla in the city, you will be sure to find these soft grey coloured lumps of limestone that the salesman calls ‘mitti’ (mud). These are sourced from Gujarat. As you buy peanuts for a rupee or two, the same is the case with chalk. Farheen invests a rupee a day in buying two pieces of that coveted item that she nibbles on whenever her heart desires. She shares valuable information: “If you cut into these pieces, then you will notice there are many shades of grey. The light grey area is the tastiest!” She needs to see a doctor and get calcium supplements for herself.
But, for now Farheen does not worry and simply loves chalk.
* Name changed to protect identity
For more information on pica and its side effects, please visit the following links: