27/05/2015 8:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Memories From The Stone Age

DOUG CURRAN via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - JUNE 18: Men wash laundry by slamming the washing on slabs of stone as children play in the cool waters of the sacred Yamuna River beneath the Purana Bridge 18 June in New Delhi. An unrelenting heat wave sweeping the northern two-thirds of India has claimed at least 523 lives and affected normal life and business in several places. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read DOUGLAS E. CURRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Recently, I bought a choppu set (miniature kitchen utensils) for a friend's daughter. Delightedly, she ran 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 (grinding stone). "It's something you use to 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 I 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 kal-ural or the other stuff used for dry grinding." In fact, my own grandmother used to refer to it as aarikkal, but none of my friends in Chennai seem to have heard of them!

It really got me thinking.

My son, for instance, would have never seen a washing stone.

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. It's 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 maids and washing machines, nobody needs to know what a washing stone is.

I remember the two washing stones in the backyard of my grandmother's home. 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. Even 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 plus her kids' clothes. Wash time was always fun for us. It was normally done in the morning, just before people went in for their baths. It was a sort of communal exercise.

I remember vividly how we kids used to pass the time in the backyard, either picking fruit or flowers or something equally idyllic, while our mothers and uncles washed their clothes and gossiped. 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 someone else would be at the back veranda combing her hair to get ready for office. My grandmother would probably be putting up her feet in the same veranda, 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 rhythm of grinding, the smell of spices, inhaling the aromas of cooking are all very soothing, 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!

I am still hoping that there is some way to reclaim all that while still enjoying our mobile phones and plasma screens.

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