MY OLD FAITHFUL - THE JANTA STOVE
The birthday girl received far too many gifts, not only from my children and other relations, but also from friends -- of all my children and my own -- at a get-together on the 27th night. But the gift that really tickled me and made me cry and laugh at the same time was a JANTA stove, from my children. It was handed to me with the words, “Can you guess what this is? This was your birthday gift every year from 1965 to 1970. This is to remind you of those days, in case you have forgotten.”
How can one forget those days, when as a housewife I spent the better part of the day in the kitchen, cooking not just two meals for the family, but also preparing dosai, adai, paranthas, pooris etc for tiffin every evening. (This was the main meal for the school-going children and also for the man of the house; breakfast and dinner were not so important for them.) It was with the help of this stove I had prepared delicacies like mysorepak, laddoos, carrot halwa and different types of payasams and also savouries like mixture, ribbon pakodam etc.
And the JANTA stove wasn’t just for cooking…in those pre-geyser days, it was the JANTA stove which heated the water for our daily bath during winters, for the entire family, starting with myself at 5am (in those days you entered the kitchen for cooking only after having a bath!) and then the school-goers.
With such a heavy workload, the life of a JANTA stove was only a year or so. So every year, it had to be replaced. And the day it was replaced every year was the day it was my birthday. The JANTA stove cost only Rs 8 in those days but those were the days when I really struggled to make both ends meet within the household money and a new stove each year was a much welcomed gift.
(In those days, we used to wait for one’s birthday to give as a gift whatever that person needed most. Like, Bala, in his IIT hostel days, used to get a sleeping suit every year on his birthday, and Raji a much-needed sari. For me, it was the JANTA stove.)
Looking at the stove, my little great-granddaughter Arundati might have wondered how I managed to cook on it, given all the modern gadgets in today’s kitchens. But to me, the kerosene stove was a blessing.
I learnt cooking from my mother, whose medium of cooking was wood. If one got the firewood burning bright and good, cooking could be finished without too much of a strain. Otherwise it took a lot of breath – one had to keep blowing into the fire to keep it going – and tears (due to smoke) to finish the cooking. And that too, in twice the time it takes to cook with gas. It was really tough during the rainy seasons, remember, Kerala has two heavy rainy seasons each year.
The firewood was brought to one’s doorsteps by the viraku karan in cartloads; big heavy chunks of trees cut down in the forest, and sold to the regular housewives every month. I still remember the way my mother used to cut the cost of the firewood by haggling and bringing it down to half of the original required amount. It was an art and my mother, like all housewives, was good at that. It was always, and still is, a struggle for the housewife to make both ends meet.
Every cartload of firewood was followed by a woodcutter, the viraku vettakaran, along with his axe, ready to cut the big chunks of wood into the required size and also to stack them inside the woodshed. Another bout of bargaining would follow and by the end of the day, every bit of firewood, big and small, was inside the shed. The woodcutter also was happy for he got, along with his money, ample supply of sambaram and pickles.
If there were coconut trees in the house compound, the dry fronds (leaves and stalks) were also used as firewood, particularly to heat water for one’s bath. In every household, near the bathroom, there was a separate place where water could be heated this way.
When I came to Delhi (after getting married, in 1945) I was surprised to find that in Delhi people cooked with pathar koila (coal) in angeethis. The pathar koila came in big hunks, each one as big as a pumpkin but as hard as rock. It had to be broken to pieces with a hammer. It was a tough task and within a fortnight of coming to Delhi my palms started getting callused. So the paniwallah was given extra money to break the koila, which he used to conveniently forget once every three-four days. (In those days, the persons who cleaned the pots and pans and also the rooms, were called the paniwallahs. They never touched leather and if there were shoes or chappals lying around, they would sweep and mop all around it, never lifted it or moved it).
To get the koila angeethi going, the lakadi koila had to be place inside first. Then the pathar koila was stacked strategically so that air could pass through and get the coal burning. Rolls of paper were kept on the lower half of the angeethi and a matchbox always handy so that in the morning, when the housewife got up, she could get the angeethi going first thing. It wasn’t an easy task, it could take anything up to 15 minutes.
The JANTA stove, with its flame burning on wicks dipped in kerosene, was a huge improvement on that. It made life in the kitchen so much easier.
So when I held that stove in my hands on my birthday I laughed at seeing an old friend once more and cried because I missed those days and some members of my family who are no more.
On the whole, I consider myself blessed for my children are loving and affectionate, care for me and care for each other. What more does one want!