“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.