BY AUTAR MOTA
Rice has given comfort and trouble to Kashmiris. If we look back 100 years, we find that entire activity in Kashmir revolved around cultivation, harvesting, storing, husking, buying, selling and finally the consumption of rice. Rice crop was the major source of revenue for the state. Failure of this crop had a disastrous effect not only on the poor farmers but also on the population in general and revenues of the state in particular. Many Kashmiris have migrated out from the valley on account of rice crop failures. For Kashmiris, the rice used to be the only staple food for many centuries. Generally, Kashmiris ( who could afford ), consumed white rice ( rich in starch ) grown locally and known as ‘Koshur Tomul’ as distinguished from the rice supplied by government-run stores known as “ Punjaib Tomul “. The rice supplied by government stores kept Kashmiris engaged and busy. Quite often they would make enquiries like this:-
“Kyaa sa gaatus trovukha tomul? ‘ meaning ‘ Have the government rice supplies arrived for the consumers ?’ “
I vividly remember how cooked rice helped a troubled husband (who also happened to be a mother’s son) find a way out from the mother in law daughter in law wars of attrition in the joint families known in the Kashmiri language “Hashi noshi nyaay “.
The helpless man trapped in this feud would sometimes throw away his cooked rice plate ( Thhaal for Kashmiri Pandits ) or bowl ( Toor for a Kashmiri Muslim), which he was about to eat. It went like a flying saucer and the man would leave hungry from the house silencing the warring parties( his mother and wife ) momentarily.
On festivities, Kashmiris cook and distribute Tahar ( rice cooked with a little turmeric powder and finally mixed with heated edible oil and a pinch of salt). Kashmiri Halwai shops use rice flour for making Nader Monjji and Monjji Goole.
Kashmiri Pandits in particular use rice flour (powdered rice ) for making a Dosa type Chapaati ( thin and crisp ), known as ‘Tzseir Tchott’. White rice powder is also used by Kashmiri Pandits in almost all religious ceremonies and rituals like the birth of a child, Mekhla, Grihpravesh, marriage, birthday Pooja, Shivratri Pooja, making of a Vyoog ( Rangoli ) and almost all rituals connected with death.
A plateful or a bowl of cooked rice was treated as luck. I quote popular Kashmiri phrases.
“Hataa ma dhi sheeirmitiss bataah thhaallus dhakaa.’ meaning ‘Don’t be foolish and throw away the plateful of cooked rice put before you ‘ .”
“Tse aaiy ta bataah ’. meaning ‘May you live long and have food ( cooked rice ) to eat’. “
Not many of us know that till recent past, a special medicinal drink was also fermented in Kashmiri households from rice water. Known as Kaanz, it was consumed as all cure drink. Our younger generation does not know what Kaanz was. From our elders, I have learnt its popularity and its preparation technique in Kashmiri households.
Our women had developed a skill in preparing Kaanz. A somewhat fermentation process was involved in the making of Kaanz . It was prepared in earthen pots/ pitchers. Even potters would bake special earthen pots/ pitchers for Kaanz which would be sold as ‘ Kaanz Nott ’. In our households, rice was washed thoroughly and all the water was collected in a ‘Kaanz Nott‘. Once the pitcher was full, a small quantity of Ajwain ( Carom or Bishop’s weed seeds ), Muth ( pulse grown locally ), Saunf ( fennel seeds ), Kala Zeera ( black cumin seeds ) and Pudeena ( Mint leaf ) powder etc. would be added to it. It was then sealed and kept untouched for exactly forty days on rooftops under sunshine for proper fermentation. Once fermented properly, it was consumed with food. For consumption, fermented Kaanz was boiled every time.
Many vitamins, especially from the B complex series, present in the dust of rice shell would be retained in this mixture. It was quite safe as neither chemical fertilizers were used for growing paddy nor was rice husked, shelled and polished in modern machines. Paddy was husked and shelled in homes by our womenfolk using a stone mortar and a large wooden pestle known as ‘ Kanz’ and ‘Muhul’ respectively. A stone mortar (Kanz ) was always visible in every house just in the courtyard while paddy and rice were stored in big earthen pitchers ( approximately 6 feet in height ) called Maett.
Kaanz was consumed as a medicine. Many Hakeems ( Unani medicine practitioners ) in Srinagar recommended Kaanz as a general tonic to their patients. Although Kaanz had a bitter acidic taste, it had a pleasant smell. Some trained practitioners of allopathic system of medicine also recommended it as a tonic rich in B complex vitamins. In a Kashmiri family, it was the traditional and age-old treatment against jaundice . In small quantity, Kaanz was also added to some cooked vegetables or fish the way we add tamarind paste currently.
The practice of consuming fermented rice water is also prevalent in many countries of south-east Asia and China. Chinese believe it to be good medicine for falling hair, premature greying of hair and heart ailments.
I am informed by some elderly relations that whenever someone complained of pain in legs or joints, a common suggestion would come from all quarters:-
“Diss kaanz gilaasaa’ . meaning ‘Give him a glass of fermented rice water ’. ”
Even before the arrival of machine husked polished rice, Kashmiris had started identifying Kaanz with poverty and backwardness. As society got exposed to modern living, its consumption was dispensed with.
Autar Mota is a blogger and writes for local and national papers and journals.