Changing times

Recently, I bought a choppu set for a friend’s daughter. Delightedly, she ran away to her room to start playing. After a while, she came back to us, looking puzzled.

“Amma, what’s this?” she asked, holding up a kal-ural. “Its something in which you grind mavu for idli” My friend explained. “But how?” the little girl demanded. We gave her a demo of pretend-grinding.

After she left us alone, my friend and me looked at each other. “She’s never seen one!” my friend exclaimed. “We grew up with these things. Imagine a whole new generation is growing up without knowing a kalloral, ammi or the other stuff used for dry grinding” (my own grand mom used to refer to it as aarikkal, but none of my friends in Chennai seem to have heard of them!) we mused.

It really got me thinking.

Just imagine, my son, for instance would have never seen a washing stone.

35317255.jpg For those who don’t know what it is, a washing stone is a cement platform on which a rough granite or sandstone is mounted. Its easy to stand over, spread a piece of cloth to apply soap and then holding one end, beat the cloth on the stone many times, before rinsing it and wringing it dry. I still don’t know the thought-process behind beating it on the stone!

Of course in an apartment there’s absolutely no space for ammi or ural. And with the maids and washing machines, nobody needs to know what a washing stone is.

9770814.jpg I remember the two washing stones in the backyard of my grandmother’s. Because the house was always full-up, it was really handy to have two. I don’t remember the maid washing any clothes over there. They only washed the non-paththu pathrams in the evenings, and swept & mopped the house. The major vessels were washed by an aunt or an older cousin in the backyard.

Every one washed their own clothes. A visiting daughter like my mom used to wash hers & her kids’. Wash-times were always fun for us. It was normally done in the mornings, just before people went in for their baths. It was a sort of communal thingy.

I remember vividly how us kids used to pass time in the backyard, either picking fruit or flowers are something equally idyllic. While our mothers and uncles washing their clothes and having their gossip-sessions. While someone drew water from the well, two others would be at the washing stones. Someone else would be wringing the clothes and hanging them dry and some one else would be at the back verandah combing her hair to get ready for office. My grandmother would probably be putting up her feet in the same verandah, drinking her second cup of coffee while taking part in the morning banter.

It all seems light years away! Now who has that kind of time? I always wake up late, do everything in a mad rush before locking up the house to go to school!

If only we still did all these things, we’ll never need a gym!

One of the books I read on healing says that the process of grinding and cooking before the machines took over was very therapeutic. The rythm of grinding, the smell of spices, inhaling the aromas of cooking are all very soothing for a woman, the author claims. I tend to agree, because I feel so de-stressed while I cook.

Maybe we really had something going for a healthy living those days.

Right from eating on a banana leaf to sleeping soon after sunset, we had such close commune with nature.

And we were so eco-friendly too!

There must be some way to reclaim all that while still enjoying our mobile phones and plasma screens!



  1. 10yearslate said,

    January 8, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Another fast disappearing art form is the kolam. We used to go to my mother’s village on the Kaveri in Thanjavur dt. I will always remember we were there one Rathasaptami (the day Bheeshma departed the bed of arrows) and every kolam drawer outdid each other with elaborate and beautifully rendered ‘Rathams’ for a kolam.
    Wow! That must’ve been something! I believe there’s a Mylapore festival during margazhi and the roads around the temple are replete with beautiful kolams. Check out this website for details. Maybe u can plan a visit during that time for some nostalgic moments šŸ™‚

  2. lakshmi said,

    January 9, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    my grandpa still has the two stones with a little tank built-in right next to them. Many an idyl hour was spent by us visiting cousins on the stone in the kollai, splashing the area with water to keep it cool in the heat. We used to catch dragon flies over the well. And watch the fish in the well -meant to clean up the water.

  3. lakshmi said,

    January 9, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Paddi, your son will see an ammi at least once – during his wedding šŸ™‚ Believe it or not, it is available here soon, no one will know the original purpose. My mom used to have both a kal ural as well as an ammi.. I guess my dad’s Andhra connections did not allow mixi-made pacchadis.
    Haha! True about the wedding! My sis-in-law in the US of A has a miniature ammi which she uses to grinding chutneys. I believe she got it in a Chinese market over there! šŸ™‚

  4. maami said,

    January 11, 2008 at 3:17 am

    i’m ambivalent about the nostalgia about kitchen and household chores of the past. grinding batter, sitting on the floor for a family of 15 is exercise?that poor maami could have joined an akhada! endless stooped posture for slapping yards of clothes for a big family of truckload of kids a great exercise for the shoulders? mmmh, not as i can see it. “lovely terracotta ovens for the smoky smell of paati’s sambar” over contemporary gaslines and hobs?gimme hobs over soot in the eyes terracotta ovens.our kids can drop by dakhsinachitra to check the utensils of the past.
    it’s a bit like my appa would say, “you girls have no idea of how it was to study for exams by kerosene lamps”. Nostalgia for kolam, for an elaborate meal on banana leaves, for wooden and lacquer choppus over plastic thingies make a commendable point; but “how lovely it was in those days when we used to wash umpteen dishes at home by hand” ( i can buy your argument of using recycled sambal or arapu over harsh detergent dishwashing liquids) or “how nice it was to defecate and bathe in the same river in the open while we washed clothes on the river steps” doesn’t win any scores with me.
    Maami! you’ve missed my point entirely! While u rave abt the inconveniences of the past, u must agree that people were healthier those days. Most of the killer diseases were either un-heard of, or so very rare those days! We both know a cancer survivor who just celebrated her 80th birthday. That does say something for the change in lifestyles. While I agree with u that women needed more self esteem & economic independence those days, they never needed a gym to keep themselves fit. Please re-read the last para… All I’m saying is that now we have the wisdom and knowledge, why not combine the conveniences of the modern world, while still adapting healthier, eco-friendly ways of the past? By the way, a friend of mine at this day & age grinds idli dosa mavu in kalloral, just to exercise her arms.

  5. lakshmi said,

    January 14, 2008 at 2:53 am

    your comment:
    ” By the way, a friend of mine at this day & age grinds idli dosa mavu in kalloral, just to exercise her arms.”

    Every time i have to mop my kitchen floor with a bucket and rag, i tell myself “I am saving myself some gym and doc fees”..

    I think it is the levels of stress that is the main difference between the old and modern times. As children, we used to have so much leisure (more on the blog). Our parents were also very relaxed. No pressure to study, to achieve, no need for a tight schedule. This reflects on the health.
    My grandparents had a set routine. Wake up before the sun rose, finish all the chores before the heat of the sun, lunch, afternoon snooze, light snack, followed by an early bedtime after listening to the nightly drama on radio. The only sickness I’d seen in them was due to old age after the age of 75!
    I also think modern conveniences are more work. It is so much easier to wash dishes then and there than to pile it up to get a full load in the dishwasher (energy conscient enough to not want to run uless full – mars -venus difference in our household!).
    Lakshmi, what u said abt stress levels is so true. Like maami had said in her blog, there are too many choices these days in our lives! We just have to consciously choose and adapt a healthier lifestyle! So much easier said than done!!

  6. maami said,

    January 19, 2008 at 11:39 am

    By the by ( as V.S.Raghavan says) thanks for introducing me to the modern way of making idli batter in a Preeti mixie than the horrible grinder.
    The whole maami gumbal is speechless here at how soft they turn out after a swish in my Preeti.Viva modern kitchen appliances.

  7. padmajav said,

    January 19, 2008 at 1:32 pm


  8. anusha srikanth said,

    April 20, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    the first time i got to actually use a washing stone was in my in laws backyard. the novelty of it kept me so amused that i made it a point to use it when ever i got time. or simply made excuses to use the stone. born in the quick wash – touch sensors machine era i had no control over the beating of the clothes on the stone. my clothes didn’t last too long nor did my interest washing. but it always proves to be an extreme therapy. even today i vent it out on a washing stone.

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