KV Network

Mortar and Pestle

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The scare caused by a virus, and the protocol one is forced to follow to contain its spread, has all but rung the death-knell of health-clubs. They used to be the regular haunts of the rich and the powerful.

“People have become health-conscious. We’ve no dearth of members – both male and female. Even senior citizens and school-going children come to us for regular workout. Though new gyms are coming up fast, we are bursting at the seams and are forced to turn away new customers,” my friend, the owner of a gym, had told me a few weeks ago.

No wonder the ‘homemakers’ of today, with food processors, pressure cookers, ovens, refrigerators, dishwashers, cooking ranges, washing machines and the like at their beck and call, have to depend on health clubs to keep themselves fit. And if they are in no mood to cook, either the family can eat out or order food online.

Years ago, my mother and sisters were not so lucky in our agriculture-centred life. Nor were the men, who had to sweat it out in the absence of any farm machinery worth the name.

Cooking was done over a wood-fired hearth for which wood was split with an axe by men and sometimes by women. Water was drawn from the well with a bucket tied to a rope, the overhead pulley being the only mechanical help. Grinding stones, mortars, and pestles were integral parts of a home. The paste of ingredients for each dish was freshly prepared on a flat grinding stone. Clothes of the whole family were washed by the womenfolk at the bathing ghat on the river.

Breakfast usually consisted of idlis or dosas with coconut chutney and sambar. The batter was prepared the previous evening by grinding the soaked rice and split black gram till it became fluffy, a task of about two hours in an average family.

Rice was processed at home from paddy grown in one’s field. Two or three women would stand around a mortar filled with paddy and pound it rhythmically with pestles. The whole rice, broken rice, and chaff were separated with a winnower. Since rice had enough coating of bran over it, there was no need for vitamin supplements from a medical store.

Ploughing and the preparation of the field for sowing or transplanting were done manually with the help of bullocks and buffalos. The field was filled with water from canals by sitting high on a platform and rotating a wooden wheel with legs. Women worked jointly with men in sowing, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, and threshing. Looking after the domestic animals was also the joint responsibility of the whole family.

Walking, cycling, or riding on bullock carts were the usual means of transport within the village. A cycle sometimes carried a family of four on it. Unlike the modern children ‘playing’ everything from football to car-racing on their iPads or mobile phones, lying on their beds, we used to spend our evenings outdoor, playing real games with our neighbourhood friends, building a life-long bond with them in the process.

I wonder what would have happened if someone had opened a gym during those days.

(The author is a retired professor of English. His articles have been published by The Kashmir Vision, The New Indian Express, The Deccan Herald, The Hans India, The Tribune, and elsewhere. He can be reached at [email protected])

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