The millstone, even though we were born into a generation that never had to use it, is familiar to most Indians. The reason behind this is that it was a symbol of punishment in most of the Hindi movies of yesteryear (where inmates had to grind wheat). Even today “jail ka chakki pisna” is a common phrase to refer to being imprisoned. In large households, some of the larger millstones were operated by two people (usually women) sitting in front of each other to share the load. Imagine my delight when I came to become a proud owner of my own millstone!
This was even better news for me as I’ve been researching heavily on sustainable living and off the grid living. The closest I’d come to grinding wheat off the grid was to build one of these… which wasn’t really parctical. I was also looking at those awfully expensive hand operated grinders which no one was willing to ship internationally, when this small millstone (chakki in Hindi) more or less fell into my lap!
It all started when I asked my mum how they dehulled rice when they were kids and grandpa and grandma grew their own rice in the few fields that we had. She told me they had a dehuller which was basically a stone bowl which was buried in the ground which they filled with rice and pounded with a wood pounder which had blunt nails in its tip. Our conversation ended with, “AFAIK, the stone bowl for pounding rice should still be with your aunt, if she hasn’t yet thrown it away…”
I grabbed my camera, hopped onto my bike and was off like the proverbial wind. On talking to my aunt, she said that it was buried somewhere in the jaal -i.e Tulu for the cow dung swept open space in front of the house. My uncle before his demise had raised the level of the jaal by carrying basket loads of soil from neighboring areas and in the process had partially buried the disused rice dehuller. My aunt took me to a place where a familiar colored piece of stone was jutting out where the trench around one of the coconut trees had been dug. I helped my aunt excavate the area around the stone and it turned out to be a millstone. I now know the excitement that archaeologists feel when digging up remains from past generations! We later found the rice de-huller closer to the kitchen right next to the well. My aunt had one look at the millstone and said, “I need to discard this rubbish”. When I asked for it, she and my cousin sister helped me to carefully wrap it up and tether it to my bicycle and wobbling precariously I took it home all the while re-adjusting its position on the carrier with my left hand.
I was surprised at how new it looked after I washed it with water. Although the iron rod in the center was a bit rusted. On coming home, I was told that my uncle had carried it along with him from Hassan district of Karnataka. I wasn’t very surprised at him lugging the heavy stone all the way from there as he was an ex-army guy and was a teetotaller -wouldn’t even drink tea or coffee and did heavy manual work till the end due to his extreme level of physical fitness. My aunt allegedly refused to labor on it so he buried it in a fit of anger in the jaal.
Leaving its alleged history behind, mum’s other sister soon established herself as the local expert. She told me that I needed to grind sand in the millstone to prepare its surface and to grind it till the sand exiting it was as fine as powder. The surface of the stones had already been roughened by hammering tiny chips off it with a chisel. I had hardly turned the handle a few times that the sand started exiting it which was as smooth as talcum powder. This meant that the stone was already ready to use and had probably been used a couple of times at least. I washed it and stored it in our store room for use. The millstone is a wonderful accessory to those wanting to live off the grid. It can give years of service -the best part being that only the required amount of wheat can be ground as flour loses its nutrition pretty fast and goes rancid as well. In addition, unlike in motorised chakki’s the flour does not heat up. This year at the Surajkund Mela at the Delhi – Faridabad border I saw a stall selling motorized grinders. This is a step in the right direction as wheat will once more be easily available in the market. Many shops do not stock wheat anymore but only wheat flour. Wheat is also an emergency food as when properly stored it has a very long shelf life… not so with wheat flour which goes rancid so soon.
I wouldn’t want to end this post without mentioning the ‘taaki waali’s’ in Hindi (at least in Bombay Hindi) doing the rounds in the 70’s and 80’s. I’m not sure about it now as I’ve been away for more that 20 years. These women would be doing their rounds crying out, “taaki waleyaa” My parsi neighbours had their flat stone grinder (called sil or silbatta in North India) which they used to wet grind masalas’ and chutneys. We had our traditional kadepina kall” in Tulu or Kadiva kallu in Kannada, which we used for wet grinding. You can see a pic of it in this post. When called, these women would squat on the ground with their chisels -often a sharp iron rod flattened and probably tempeered at the tip and a hammer and and chip off tiny flakes off worn out stones so that they would be rough enough for grinding again.
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