Friday, February 4, 2011

The days when we used to get our paddy

At the end of each harvest season our share of paddy used to be delivered at home in bullock carts. The good fortune of witnessing the grand arrival of paddy grown in our own land is mine.  I vividly remember  the (good) times which date to about 12-13 years backward of 1976.  The day it arrived was like a great festival at home. To watch the spectacle we would get up early.  When 'action' started it also attracted spectators from the neighbourhood.   

Let me paint a wee bit of background to that.

Five acres of fertile land at a village called Marulagaala near Srirangapatna, about 8 miles from Mysore was jointly purchased in 1902 by my great grandfather K.Mylar Rao (who was at that time posted as Munsiff at Holenarsipur) and his elder brother K.Subba Rao (who was a Pleader in Mysore).  

Subba Rao wrote a letter (picture below) to his younger brother informing the completion of the purchase formalities. They updated each other regularly on all family issues through letters.  It was leased immediately to a certain family of "Patels".

(Click on pictures to enlarge and read)

Loans were raised by them in addition to their savings from years of hard work.  It appears that getting large amounts of money was not easy in those times.  There are references in their correspondence about some acquaintance agreeing to sell 'Govt. of India Bonds' to lend them money.

Rice, as we all know is our staple food and the quantity consumed in olden days was quite voluminous.  The brothers' incomes were by no means large but their families certainly were, living together under one roof.  The (Hindu) Joint Family system was the normal thing. The purchase of land and getting substantial yield of paddy must have been a great relief. 

An older letter Subba Rao has written in 1898 says that he had purchased paddy from a person and stocked it in his house which was in "Fort" area of Mysore. There could not have been any life without rice as it was also an item from which various other dishes were prepared besides cooked rice for meals. 

With the death of  Mylar Rao in 1936 and Subba Rao subseqently, the total yield of paddy had to be divided equally among the four successors.  One of Subba Rao's sons was always different and tried to find fault in the dealings or complain.  His post card in 1943 gives a clue:

Now let me project some indelible memories:

The date when the farmers would bring our share of paddy was intimated beforehand by the Patel to my grandfather. So, that morning we would get up early as they always reached here before dawn.  We were all ears anticipating to hear the 'sweet sound' of the rattling wooden cartwheels as it turned at a distance towards our street.   In those days, an occasional bullock cart used to pass by and when something was heard we would rush out to see if it was ours. Our paddy was usually brought in two or three carts. When we noticed 'our carts' arriving on the lamp-lit street, 'they are coming, they are coming' we used to loudly announce joyfully and excitedly. We had no camera to capture all those moments and so there are no pictures of the dramatic occasion. This (net) borrowed picture gives an idea of the scenario.  

The long 8-mile walk for the bullocks with the paddy load culminated in front of our gate.  They would rest after being relieved from their yokes. I am unable to recollect what the bullocks were fed but I only guess the farmers brought with them some hay.  I think water to the bullocks was served in this vintage stone trough that lay beside our gate.  I brought this trough with me to our ancestral house when that house had to be vacated.   It is now serving me as a nice container for water lilies.

When everything was ready, the farmers would pull the cart in front of our small gate (then of wood) and unloaded the paddy by tilting it so that all paddy would fall inside of the gate in a huge heap - a fantastic sight to behold.  It occupied the area between our front door and the gate (a recent picture).  

The paddy now had to be transferred to a storage bin built inside a room.  The bin had two compartments having outlets near the bottom closed by sliding lids.  It was fun to watch the grains slide out on their own while taking paddy out later for filling into sacks.

Measuring was done by the farmers who accompanied the carts.  Someone in the family kept count, lest they missed and jumped (deliberately), which they were capable of!  The total tally was to come close to or be exact to that of the estimated measure provided by the Patel before delivering.

The very manner in which they counted the measures at the time of transferring was a thing to listen. Loud and clear he repeated the number till the next measure of a 'kolaga' was filled.  A kolaga is about 5 seers - roughly 5 kilos.

(Another picture borrowed from the web shows the 'kolaga' - the biggest one seen here)

They were superstitious about numbers.  They counted four as 'mooru mattondu' and five as 'mooru magadondu' (means one after three and two after three!).  Again, they would say 'six' and the next number was 'aaru mattondu' (six and the one after), '8, 9, 10 etc. followed as usual.  Here I found someone's blog about the '7'.  As a young fellow I amused myself sitting on the stone bench and sometimes walking on the heap to please myself but that angered the farmers because my stepping on it spread out the paddy.  Also, it was not to be stepped on because it was 'Goddess Annapooneshwari'!  

One farmer would sit on the bin wall to receive the basket and pour into the bin and one carried it from the counting man who filled the 'kolaga' measure and gave it to the man on the bin. I also went in to watch it too. Once the two compartments got filled, the left over paddy was packed in gunny sacks and stored in the store-room. The stock usually lasted a year to our largish family.

It took them a few hours to measure and fill in the entire paddy.  After some rest, they were ready for lunch. It was served on 'organic' plates prepared from Butea tree leaves which was an item that was always in stock at home. My grandmother herself, along with my mother and aunt cooked food specially to suit the farmers' taste and eating capacity.  Huge bronze and copper vessels were always there on the attic to be used for such occasions.  These huge vessels were earlier used daily in the kitchen as the family itself was so large!  It was a treat to watch them eat and enjoy their food.  After some resting they would put the bullocks under the yoke and prepare for their return journey to their homes. 

The Patel would also come with the team of farmers and I think this Patel was a descendant of the one to whom the land was first leased.  In his unique crackling voice he would enter into arguments with my grandfather when he visited his office at other times, probably to settle some issue related to the yield and the such.  There was no opportunity for us to visit our land though it as close as eight miles to our city.

After a few weeks, the first spotting of this tiny little golden coloured rice moths (like the one pictured here - Corcyra cephalonica) signaled the beginning of a nuisance.  They would infest the paddy and fly all over the house for a period of time. Disinfestation methods had to be adapted on certain occasions when they were really too much of a bother than their doing damage to the grains.

When the paddy was naturally cured over time, it was time for taking a sufficient portion of the stock to the Rice Mill which was in adjacent Geeta Road. The mill has now given way to a huge apartment.  A bullock cart would be hired to take the paddy, now packed in gunny sacks.  I would sometimes sit on the sack and get a free ride to the mill on the open cart or run behind it.  The smell and noise of the mill was typical.  

The mill operator would weigh the sacks, record the figure and pour the contents into the large funnel at ground level. A conveyor would take the paddy grains upwards in small quantities for processing.  The passing of the grains through the vertical conveyor tube could be seen through the little peep window provided on the conveyor tube iteself.

My mother would inspect the milled rice and suggest the proper amount of adjustments for the level of polish that was required.  A small quantity would be collected with minimum polish exclusively for my father who liked this 'brown rice' as he knew the nutritional value of it.  The more the polish, the more the loss of nutrients and amino acids (I remember he used those words) but more the visual appeal (whiteness!).

(Rice we bought recently - to show 'brown rice')

The final product was collected in gunny sacks.  I need not elaborate the process here, but the huge heap of bran let out as 'waste' through a huge pipe was yet another sight to behold.  Milled rice sacks were weighed and taken back home in the cart.

The next stage was cleaning the rice to make it fit for cooking. The maid servant, her daughter or some other lady who was willing to do this were engaged and it would take many days of work.  It required patience and sharp eyes.  Little stones and weed seeds came from the rice field along with paddy.  Paddy grains also managed to pass through the mill.  They had to be culled out from the milled rice.  These inedibles  even escaped the sharp (and sometimes careless) eyes of the ladies who winnowed and went into the cooking pot and then finally got caught between our teeth...... 'krrrr'!  It was a nasty experience for those 'lucky' ones who found those tiny stones!  My grandfather used to say 'you must be strong enough to digest stones'!  Once I found about 28 (I counted and lined them at the edge of my plate) tiny stones when it made a sound on the steel meal plate.  One or two was normal, nothing was something!  Probably when that 'record' happened, I had got the bottom most part of cooked rice and even now I cannot imagine how so many!

It was such a great boon to mankind, I must say, when a "Destoner" machine was developed long later and became an integral part of the mill. I reckon this was not happy news for the dentists!

Mother Earth was not spoiled at that time like now, with pesticides and inorganic fertility boosters.  Most farmers knew only organic farming methods and it could be for this reason, rice was sweetish and all the preparations from it were tasty and my grandmother was an expert in culinary skills too.

House sparrows were aplenty in those times and were dependent on grains and seeds easily available to them by various means.  Hand cleaning of grains at home and throwing the bad ones out was enough for them and they knew that the ladies who were culling rice would sprinkle the broken grains  for them. They lived with us asking us to tolerate their nuisance when they made a nest in the crevices of the ceiling. Now not a single sparrow is seen in our locality due to various reasons.  How much fun it was to listen to stories of the crow and sparrow (kaagakka-gubbakka).

Beggars visiting houses were many in those days and they were offered a fistful of raw rice whenever they came asking for alms.  Broken rice (Akki nucchu) was given in small amounts to some poor people also.

About 3 quintals of cleaned rice would be made to stock and it was expected to last one year.  Protecting it from infestation was a problem.  Sometimes, mixing fresh neem leaves inside the sacks would help greatly.  I was curious to see the bottom of the paddy bin and to know how and why paddy slid out from the opening!  Simple. The bottom was sloped!

I draw a line here, you will understand why!

Like a bolt from the blue, in 1976, the Govt. enforced the Urban Land Ceiling Act and snatched away lands that were not tilled by the owners themselves.  In return they handed a very measly compensation after many years of making the land losers to run from pillar to post to get it. Many people in the country lost their lands and livelihoods because of this Act and its implications were myriad.  

Losing possession of land that provided food for the families of the farmers and ours was something too bitter to swallow.  The sadness in my grandparents was understandably deep as they could not think of life without their land that had supplied food for 72 years.  My grandfather died the same year (at 80) and no one knows if he had actually taken it to heart.  My grandmother also followed him only two years later.  Shock was one too many for her.

Thereafter, buying paddy was the only option.  The very next year, a known person cheated us with a very poor quality paddy.  Lesson learnt, the elders decided that they must buy rice instead of paddy even though it pinched the budget.

I am very sure that these are the very grains grown in our land and used by my grandmother in her unique artwork.   The rice picture was made by her in 1935, yes 1935 and the paddy basket is from the 1960s. These are just two of many she made out of 'our grains'.

(click on picture to enlarge)

With our lands gone, procuring paddy was out of the picture, there was no purpose of having the paddy storage bin.  A few years later it was broken down. It was sad but inevitable.  That house itself is a memory now (another story), but as a memento, I have salvaged one sliding lid of that bin, which I have fixed on a door as a latch!



YOSEE said...

Great reminiscences. Wonderful pictures too.....By co-incidence, just a couple of days ago, my sister and I were talking of those good old days when the paddy used to come home ; and all the hullaballoo that attended it !

ER Ramachandran said...

As always amazing details; attention to details, nitty gritties! Lovely...

Abraham Tharakan said...

Nostalgia and history combined and written beautifully.

Satnur said...

Even I used to take paddy in the bullock cart to the mill situated in Geetha Road. Really it was a nice experience.

What about oil mill(ENNe GaaNa)Dinu for fresh Ground nut oil and Castor Oil. There were many in those days. I used to visit the oil mill in my college days, one was behind Shantala Cinama House and another behind Shringar Hotel.

Dinakar KR said...

Thanks everyone.
The above link is a video I took of the eNNe gaaNa near Anathalaya.

jothi's jottings said...

Thanks, Dinu, for sharing memories of that beautiful phase of life. You are indeed special in that you belong to an illustrious family. And that you ,recognising the antique value of the things in your house, have managed to preserve them all. It is amazing to see that you have managed to hold on to the postcards of those days! And I also appreciate the fact that you are making the fullest use of the internet to share those things with us all,like the water tank of stone, the letters of your ancestors, even the 'chilka' of those days (through photos)!

Thanks a ton for sharing those nostalgias. And may there be many more of them in the future!