Sunday, 12 April 2009


“From tomorrow, you have to sit on the floor and eat your meals in the traditional manner,” I told my husband. He looked at me, alarmed. He thought I had lost it.

So when I continued, “I need the exercise, I have put on some weight,” (actually I have put on quite a bit around the middle) he gave me a cold look and said, “If you have put on weight, why should I sit on the floor to eat? You sit on the floor and eat.”

I looked at him pityingly, “Oh, don’t you see? It is so that I can serve you the food," I explained. "And each time I serve, I will have to bend a bit and stoop to reach your plate, and that is good for my middle.”

He said calmly, “Don’t bother, I can serve myself. I shall continue to eat on the table.”

I looked at his trim figure enviously – he is past 65, and not a spare inch of flesh anywhere. He can safely eat at the table and not worry about putting on weight. He is a creature of discipline, eats only at the stipulated times and doesn’t eat junk food, walks for an hour every evening, on top of the other errands he runs on foot (no domestic ones, though). Not having any of his self-control, (but compensated by a very sweet tooth) and detesting any form of exercise, not least of which is walking, I am no sylph (I was, till well into my thirties, but who is going to believe that!)

I comfort myself saying I have reached the stage where I need not bother so much about appearance. I don’t even care about dying my hair, but you could put that down to laziness. And anyway wearing a sari is very advantageous - it hides some unnecessary what I may optimistically call curves, but what are really bulges. And no alterations are required if you are going to lose weight or gain weight. You can continue draping the whole six yards, no matter what size you are.

I firmly feel that after all these years I can indulge myself by managing my chores with minimum physical effort. I prefer not to walk because I have some arthritic problems – I have had them since I was 35. I only have to mention this, and everyone is sympathetic. And almost everyone else has similar problems - back aches, painful knees, shoulder pains, and creaking joints by the time one is forty.

I wondered why. I began thinking about how our life styles have changed. In the late sixties when I got married and set up home, it was still common for everyone to eat sitting on small wooden planks, or on small mats with the plates in front of you on the floor. Apart from the exercise obtained by serving food, (ah, how firm were our calves then, how slender our waists!) one just could not eat beyond a certain amount sitting in that position.

We cook standing, with our stoves on counters, and all preparatory work like chopping vegetables, cleaning rice, kneading dough, rolling out pooris is done on counters. And all washing up in the sink, which is at a convenient height.

Earlier, women used to sit in front of the floor level mud stove, and cook using firewood. All chores were done sitting on the floor, including mixing coffee.(Like my grandmother in the picture above). As you can imagine, this involved a lot of sitting down - and standing up, which means a good deal of exercise. (And of course took simply ages.)

I am really happy that we women don’t need to slave over hot firewood stoves, or grind the spices for the curries manually, or grind the dough for our staple idlis and dosas using the old grinding stones, like my aunt in this picture.

Women sat on the floor to clean the rice, and even pack their suitcases. The pictures show my aunts and cousin arranging their clothes in boxes before a journey, and yet another aunt removing the stones and husks from the rice.

I am glad that we have washing machines to take the pain out of laundry, and mixies and grinders to ease our lives. (Having experienced all the manual labour, I can tell you what a relief it was that these appliances were invented.) And we don’t have to walk everywhere – apart from taking a lot of our precious time, it also tires us out.

So, in effect, there is less exercise all around – and I have lost the ability to use my body and keep it supple, if not in shape. Atrophy through disuse – is that what has happened to me, I wonder glumly. Not even to hang the laundry on the line do I stretch my arms and torso – the domestic helper does it for me. My only consoling thought is that the arthritis reached me before the mod.cons. and appliances did..

Sigh! Since my husband is not willing to oblige, I have to pull out the walking shoes from the cupboard (still brand new and as pristine as on the day my son got them for me 9 years ago) and start taking post prandial walks, or pre-breakfast strolls or, worse still, exercise.

All the above pictures were taken by my uncle Moorthy in the 1950s.


Vetirmagal said...

These words have passed through thousands of women in 40-60 age groups in India. I am also one of them.
There are so many issues here, the clothes will get dirty in the lanes, open drains, and the road. The shoes and socks irritate our "metti" clad toes, so we have to remove them. We have to wear decent clothes, not any rag will do.
I know I can get up early morning
and walk , like scores of others in their nighties do everyday.

But I like to watch some nice late night movies, read some superb book and sleep around 1 a.m.!

There are too many issues here.

All the best for your walks.

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi Raji :)

Good you decided to go for a walk. Walking is recommended for all ailments.

This bending business can result in bent backs. You must have seen many women in the olden days had bent backs because of their habits of bending and cooking, bending to wash etc.

Best wishes :)


Vetrimagal - I am pleased that you see my point. I too like watching movies late at night - the only time one can do that uninterruptedly.

Joseph - you are right, of course.

Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

Great pix and post - and am floored by your thoughts. A coincidence : Ate lunch sitting on the floor yesterday with our extended 'garden family', and thought about what you had said. So I am delighted to see the post up today. It is true, you cant overeat in that posture!

flowergirl said...

Yes I agree Raji - husbands who are slim are bad for our waistline!!! Having one myself, I share a strong empathy with you on this post that had me smiling through and through.

And, I love my mod cons - as you call them - but also love to sit on the floor and eat. So I am most willing to come and sit down and eat if it would help you!! See how helpful I am?!

kallu said...

Lovely pictures Raji. Those sepia tones and the clarity can't be beaten. And everyone looks slim too doing all those back breaking chores. But, we do like our gadgets. I remember Sindhu asking me 'what is an attukal'? And then it hit me that they have all passed on.
Good luck with the walking. Echo flowergirl. Glad to come and help you anytime. Your cooking is so good.

Devika Jyothi said...


I was absolutely floored by this post :)

I love my morning walks, as I love my late night sittings to read or watch a movie, as I love doing household works...mostly a mix of the old and new ways of doing it,

Loved the photos here, nostalgic :)


lakshmi said...

Very nice reading Raji. It made me very nostalgic of those childhood days I have eaten in that same kitchen and seen our dear Manni cooking there and making coffee every other hour for thatha as she does in that photo. And indeed it was very sweet of you to publish those pretty sisters' photos! TVM sisters! Looked like some old black & white Tamil film clipping.

Happy Kitten said...

That was a timely one... the need to exercise...

but then, I still cannot beat my MIL aged 80 years! my body has already succumbed....nd if I ever plop on the floor, I would never be able to get up without assistance!

Jen Kumar said...

Nice post. It's true how much of exercise has gotten lost due to a modern lifestyle. This is true even among one generation to the next. It is actually the exercises done naturally (bending and lifting for serving food) that really is the best!

Now, that is another advantage for the women serving men first and eating last :) It keeps us thin!! Wow what a concept. Maybe women had more smarts in devising this than modern feminists think! :)

IIM ka Sarkari Babu said...

Modern feminism sucks anyways... But the pics - man! More than 50 years old!

Dmp said...

Hi Raji,

I just loved your snaps and the write up...yeah, we have to at least stand and cook stuff....guess what's gonna happen to the next generation...they won't even have to do this much.

i liked your proposal to u'r dh for sitting down and eating:-)

Sunita Mohan said...

Excellent post, Raji! I loved the tongue-in-cheek humour.
Exercise? What's that ? Oh you mean all those bending at the waist and walking briskly and all that? Oh but I do bend at the waist a hundred times a day, picking up all the things left scattered around the house by my children who never seem to have to do it themselves. And walking! Place me in a mall and I'll walk all the way around it to the bookshop and shoe shops. And I'll crisscross any nursery, hunting for that perfect plant.
That should count as exercise, right?

Indrani said...

Made me smile!
And HK I am wanting to see you badly now.

Great post, Raji, with a good dose of B&W photos.

sundar said...

How on earth you decided to punish him for your problem ? he..he..

Have you ever tried water therapy...but for that ppl have to get up in the early morning..

Unknown said...

those grinding stones can be mistaken for relics of the past but as unbeleivable as it may sound they were used well into the 1980s.
when i visited udaipur city palace in january this year the guide took us into a little section in the queens apartments and told us that it was the 'rani ka gym.' a little surprised we opened the door to find a huge chakki,mortar and pestle and a ginormous iron kadhai with a few iron ladles resting on the rim.It really would have taken royal exercise to work these!!!!
The article and the photographs were truly informative of the domestic conditions of the past few decades...thoroughly enjoyed reading the post.

♥♥♥♥♥ Jennifer™® ♥♥♥♥♥ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Swarna said...

You start. Let me take inspiration fro you - let me know after you lose 5 kgs.
Nice old pics that bring back... fond memories of madisaaru maamis and paattis.
And to flowergirls' "husbands who are slim are bad for our waistline!!" hear, hear!
As to me,
I have daydreams
about a fit Me
and nightmares
about "Will that ever be?"

raja vasanta said...

I laughed my head off. the picts are fabulous

Meera's World said...

great post.hope you are going to stick to your 'shoes 'till you start feeling good.:)

Kat said...

Lovely humour laden blog.

Why trouble the husband when the answer is sprinkled all over the blog.

Just scrap the mixie and the washing machine and the kitchen counters and watch the sylph emerge soon :)

Kamini said...

Terrific post, Raji - although I seem to have missed the bulges you have written about!!
I am reminded of my advancing years (!) every time I sing - at the end of a session, I can barely heave myself upright, and then totter and stagger about like a drunkard till my knees regain some stability! I watch musicians who are far older than me get up and walk about after their kutcheris with such grace and ease, and wonder how they manage it. Constant practice, I suppose!

Unknown said...

Your article on 'floored' brought memories of yesteryears. It is a very well written piece.
I am disappointed that my brother did not 'obey' your orders and start having his meals sitting on the floor. He has not grown up yet!! In the current generation, he would be lucky to have a meal for such a response.
Best wishes to you all and namaskarams to Maaji.
ambi anna

Chandramouli S said...

Very right about we not getting enough exercise. Even today we eat on the floor in our home and I in fact feel very uncomfortable when sitting on a chair to eat in the weddings.
Though mixies, grinders, and washing machines are inevitable, we could at least stick on to certain old practices that would consume our time a lot.

namaki said...

Well well Raji ... I think I would hve to eat on the floor too ... with menopause can we really prevent our belly to get fat ? Exercise is the answer of course but ... it takes a lot of discipline ! and I thought I was the only one ! ;-) Good luck with your strolls ...

Maddy said...

nice.. all those pics took me back to our ancestral house in palakkad..even today it is somewhat like that..

i had the same problem, today i was squatting on my haunches in the library to check the bottom rack and it has been aching a bit after that, so the decision is that i am not doing what they call whole body exercise.. some 'baitaks' have been ordered..

Ashvin said...

Kallu - you are right, in fact I have actually kept aside an old attukal as a decorative piece.

Aunty - please dont ask me to sit on the floor when I come over, sitting down is easier, getting up would be a bit of an issue.

P.H. - absolutely agree with you. I would not get any meals for such a response.

Pradeep said...

Jokes apart, incorporating a bit of exercise into our daily routines is one good way to stay healthy without much ado. Good article here.


Gardenia - :)

Flowergirl, - you are on

Kallu - nice dig

Devika - thanks for enjoying.

Lakshmi - Our thoughts always go back to Thatha Manni and Lakshmi Nivas , and those happy days.

Happy Kitten - the ladies of those days are soemthing else

Jennifer - thanks for visiting, and the nice comment.

Varun- those pictures are a kind of social documentation.

Dmp - thanks for visiting.

Sunita - just wait till they grow up and leave home, and then - welcome to the club.

Indrani - thanks

Sundar - Water therapy, eh?

Swati - that is an interesting bit of info.

Swarna - :).

raja vasantha - glad you had a good laugh.

meersa'sworld - no chance

Kat - what! Give up all those mod cons?

Kamini - True, our musicians have to be appreciated for being able to sit for three hours and more at a stretch, no matter what their age.

P. H. - Thanks for the support.

Chandramouli - I agree. Cute picture of you with the budgies, or are they parakeets?

Namaki - No strolls yet, I am afraid - :)

Maddy, thanks. Good luck woith the baitaks.

Ashvin - you shall have the table and a special chair, surely.

Pradeep - I value that comment.

Chandramouli S said...

Yes they're budgies. Of course, budgerigars are a type of parakeet. Our green parrot that we call shuka pakshi is Indian Ring necked parakeet.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Agrahara Buchwald.

Asha said...

a lovely post and those sepia toned photos too lovely. The patti's remind me of my own and how they toiled those days and boredom must not have been a word in their dictionary with all those chores around.

a similar post on this in my blog too called heritage homes dated dec24/2010/. when you do find time please do visit.

raja vasanta said...

Walking shoes are very expesive and have to be replaced every year.It is cheaper. And heathier to squat

raja vasanta said...

Walking shoes are very expesive and have to be replaced every year.It is cheaper. And heathier to squat

raja vasanta said...


Minu Mathew said...

Brilliant post. Beautiful writing. Just read a few posts and loved all of them. Keep posting!


Anna('s Musings) Thanks so much - you just made my day. Keep commenting, please

Ripple-waves said...

Love this one. You are my sole(soul) mate when it comes to exercising.And what a brilliant idea to serve food to your DH on the floor ! Wonder why you don't much these days.