In the old village houses, kitchen was the ‘ living room’, for the womenfolk, especially in combined families, where they had to spend major portion of their time. It was kept neat and tidy, despite the emanating smoke and scattered charcoal and timber pieces from firewood and charcoal ovens which were based on the floor. Every night, after all activities were over, the ovens and surroundings used to be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized with cow dung water and Kolams drawn on them, raising the status of the kitchen to a semi pooja room. Being the place where food offering to Gods were made, the kitchen had in fact, the sanctity of a pooja room and the food itself was treated as somewhat sanctified and not just a hunger quencher.
‘Annam Brahma!’, reminded us our elders, ‘treat food with the respect it deserves’ . Before consuming it and at the end, Brahmins had to do a small worship accompanied by mantrams.
Doing the cooking seated on the floor, gave some exercise to women. Consuming food, seated on the floor was good for both physically, the consumer and the server.
The smoke was a nuisance and the windows at higher levels and the special roof tiles with an elevated opening helped to redress this problem, to some extend. If the firewood was not dry, the womenfolk had it. Some of you might be having, as I do, the old brass pipe used for blowing air into the oven for ignition and maintenance of fire.
In our old Perinkulam house, which was a small one with clay walls but with a backyard spread over twenty cents of fertile land full of trees and bushes, snakes used to enter the kitchen and enjoy the warmth inside the ovens! My Patti was not scared, when she met them in the mornings. Keeping the backdoor wide opened, she used to tell them, ‘please go now. You are welcome back at night’
Men and animals had some understanding those days, as they lived as good neighbors. Even ‘marapatties’ had ‘ heyday’ at night hours in our old house. Have you seen those cat like animals also called Asian pal civets or toddy cats? ( see the picture). I had seen them only in our old house, when I was a child. They used to happily leap from the roof to Windows or trees in the back yard, but never disturbed my Patti’s sleep!
‘They too are my children’, was her cool reply, when I mentioned to her with surging enthusiasm how I watched their free movements the previous night. But, when she found a mud pot of curd hanging from the roof, broken by the night-outing animals, she used to scold them,’sanyankal! or devils!
The present day women don’t have any such worry of blowing air or throwing snakes out. The hotplates come to life automatically by a finger touch, but at a price-stiff back and other similar physical problems.