Food adulteration was unheard of in Kashmir as every household would prepare spices themselves, even husking of rice was done in homes. With the change in lifestyle the valley lost that tradition along with utility items like Kanz. Abdul Mohamin reports.
Habibullah Machloo is a master stone craftsman at Athawajan, his workshop offers a wide range of kitchenware items made of diveri stone who find eager buyers along this busy Srinagar-Jammu road. However Aziz is missing one utility item among his works, that being Kanz – large mortar carved out of diveri stone, that once was ubiquitous item in every Kashmiri home mainly used to hull (husk) rice or grind spices manually.
Even though, Machloo’s shop does not have one to display, the visibility of this item is still high in the Srinagar city, as this outcast tool of the past has been dumped on roadsides, or placed on drain edges or serving as a barrier outside several trooper or police pickets.
Kanz once considered heavy weight of all the utility items in our homes is now thought to be a useless item, after rice hulling got mechanized, has been banished from Kashmiri homes.
Machloo said that in the past Kanz making was a major part of their business but now they make one on demand.
“It can still be manufactured but it is on customer’s order and it will cost up to Rs 2500,” said Machloo adding that this cost is high because a huge block of diver stone is needed for one.
The artisans say that they would manufacture Kanz until 1980’s when the Public Health Engineering (water supply) Department used these as basins near potable water in public places.
A small variant of Kanz called naime or Wukhul (small mortar carved in stone) – that is used to prepare chutney in homes is still in demand, but with the advent of power grinders it may also disappear from Kashmir homes.
Though a stone Kanz was widely used some Kashmir homes also had wooden Kanz. Carpenter Muhammad Maqbool says some people preferred wooden Kanz because these were lighter than the stone ones.
“Kanz made of sand stone was a costly thing and many had made wooden ones, though the pestle or muhul was made from Hatb wood, which in the past was also supplied as fuel wood in the city by the State Forest department,” Maqbool said.
The elders say that Kanz enjoyed a special location at the home and it was a routine for the women folk to husk paddy manually, with two women usually doing the pounding in tandem, called dug talun in local lingo.
Kanz was also used to grind spices like chilli and turmeric.
Grinding pepper (or chilli) was not liked by women as it left a burning sensation in hands and tingling sensations in the nose and on lips, says 65-year old Raja Begum of Zoonimar. Adding mustard oil to the spices would keep the chilli powder from pervading into air. The labour that went into manual grinding of spices and husking paddy kept the women folk very much fit. Many now considers it had significant health benefits.
However, with the setting up of rice husking mills first in the city, then in all the villages people used to frequent them to do this hectic job, besides people started using mechanically pulverized (ground) spices, Raja Begum said.
The ouster of Kanz from Kashmiri homes several decades ago brought back higher incidences of beriberi – a vitamin deficiency caused by insufficient intake of thiamine, also known as vitamin B1 found in abundance in less polished rice. Too much polishing of the rice in mechanical husking, doctors say, is responsible for higher incidence of beriberi cases here.
Today the pestle portion or muhul too is hard to find as the trees locally called Poshe Hatb (Parrotiopsis jacquemontiana) have been depleted to a large extent.
Devoid of any smell or aroma, the Hatb wood had a distinct advantage for making pestles as it did not leave any smell of its own and the ground spices retained their aroma.