Of Massive Stone Mortar

Engraved on these stones are the stories of our times

Srinagar, Publish Date: Aug 12 2017 11:38PM | Updated Date: Aug 12 2017 11:38PM
Of Massive Stone Mortar

For me, every single slice of the past is joy incarnate - that could be true about you- yes everyone. More than often remembering childhood or peeping into the corridors of the boyhood is as good as reciting at high pitch ‘Endymion’ a poem by John Keats - every verse of which fills our hearts with new rhythm.

 “A thing of beauty is a joy forever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness, but still will keep

A bower quiet for us,…” 

It was fortnight back during a visit to long cave in Soura supposed to be the abode of two of our native saints, Sheikh Noor-u-Din and Sheikh Hamza Makdoom when a local guide showed us a polished limestone; I remembered some stone artifacts at our home and those in the homes of our neighbors. The patron saint of Kashmir is believed to have been crushing and pulverizing wild vegetables on this stone with a rock pestle - his staple food. In our childhood, during the fifties and sixties, there would hardly be a front yard (brohum aa’ngoun) or back yard (pout aa’ngoun) of a house where there was not one or two or more stone artifacts- some in use some and some abandoned. Of all the stone artifacts, huge stone mortar, which needed more than two people to roll it from one place to another location was most prominent and in use almost round the year. In autumn,  melodious songs mixed with the beats coming out wooden pestle pounding red chilies or other spices in the mortar emanated from a compound of every house.  For us, it used to be a spectacle worth watching, when our mothers and grandmothers embodiments of stamina, beauty, and courage raised the pestles in a rhythm and pounded the paddy or chillies in the mortar. Nothing scared us more than watching crushing red chillies to powder in a mortar, and mostly we enjoyed the scene at a  distance. Nevertheless,  I rarely have seen my mother, aunts, and neighbor- women sneezing while pounding the dry red chillies,  they had mastered the art to perfection- they poured some pinches of mustard oil in the mortar- thus prevented chilly dust from spreading around.  Those days, Mohalla’s were like a tightly knit family unit, and women religiously believed in helping each other in pounding paddy, red chillies and other spices.  Like public water post- Sarkari nalka as it was called the mortar in the front or back yard of the house was also a center of catharsis- where women at desk gathered to work on their feelings. Many a time, after finishing with pounding business- women like in a jirga sat around the huge stone mortar with a senior woman seated on its rim. They shared their good and bad experiences. 

The mortar was also center piece of attraction on occasions- good and bad. I remember having seen an elderly ‘moirologists,' wearing long pheran almost touching ankles and a cloth girdle around waist always sitting on the stone mortar for mourning death of a neighbor.  I would have no idea if moirologists’  Daulat Ded were compensated like professional mourners in other parts of the world.  

The massive stone mortars in the front and backyards of almost every home also told stories about the worst kind of oppression that our ancestors had suffered at the hands of cruel revenue officials who for exacting taxes from our peasantry and looting every grain of their harvest used to put a seal on them. Those, who tore the seal and pounded paddy without permission were herded like cattle to Gilgit for begar. 

 There were many other stone artifacts, and each one of them had a story for me.  

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