Once upon a time, when Ajji couldn’t go to VLCC


E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: How did our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers keep themselves fit and in shape back in the good old days?

Did they have enough exercise as per modern fitness standards?

Did they go to a slimming centre then, an earlier version of Talwalkar‘s or VLCC ( ‘Vait Loss Coaching Class’ as Vanada Luthra‘s Curls and Curves has come to be called) where they did 25 dumbells for warm-up and then spent 20 minutes on a stepper/ stair-climber before hopping on a Recumbent Bike to do 100 pedals under watchful eyes of a “personal trainer”?

Were they ever advised to consume only measured calories each day: 1,000 for breakfast, 1,500 for lunch, and 800 for dinner, checking their weights in between?

These questions are rhetorical, of course, because back then, home itself was a major slimming centre though nobody was there to count how many sit-ups Ajji did. She got up early in the morning to sweep the floor, wash the frontage with cow dung, and draw a nice little rangoli with akki hittu while humming ‘Bhagyaada Lakshmi baaramma….’

Since most families had their own cattle, she would also wash, feed and milk them before sending them out for grazing.

Like Ashta Lakshmi, Ajji notionally had eight pairs of hands attending to everything from sweeping and wiping the floors (gudisodu-sarisodu) to cooking for a joint family of at least a dozen. Ingredients like menasina pudi, saarina pudi, huli pudi, and chutney pudi, and accoutrements like pickles, pappad and sandige were all prepared at home to mouth-watering standards.

She sat on her haunches when she washed the house, each time squatting and moving on her toes.

What about the “weights” which would tone up her arms and wrists? True, she didn’t have weights which Aishwarya Rai or Angelina Jolie now use, but she coolly drew water from a 100 ft well probably 50 times a day for drinking, cooking, washing, and for watering the plants and feeding the cattle.

Make that 100 times a day if there were visitors from the next village or if the family cow Ganga was delivering a calf during Navarathri when Ajja’s younger brother’s family came visiting.

What about the equipment in her “gymnasium”?

Kitchen was her gym. Since every ingredient had to be prepared at home, she had Jaladi and Vandhri for sieving; Oralu Kallu for grinding all types of chutney. Machchu for breaking and Thuriyo Mane for grating coconut; Beeso Kallu to powder wet grains. Rice thus ground became fine powder for excellent dose or akki rotti with pudina chutney.

What did Ajji do to keep her weight in control? She didn’t have a fancy ‘tummy toner’ vibrator or a belt which claims can ‘reduce a waistline without moving an inch even while eating whatever one liked’.  How did she manage?

She used Onake long before onake Obavva came on the scene to fight intruders. Pounding paddy on a mortar and pestle at a brisk pace of 40 to 50 strokes per minute for around ten minutes at a stretch, with a half-a-minute break to wipe the sweat from her forehead seemed to do wonders for her weight.

Further, there was kudugolu to make majjige and benne at home. Not only did it help tone her forearms but also made sure there was home-made ghee to go with the rave idli and kotthambari chutney.

Since Ajji didn’t have the pleasure of a radio or TV, she exercised her vocal chords to get the children to sleep.

Half way through ‘Ramanama payasakke, Krisnhanama sakkare’ of  Purandara Dasaru in raga Ananda Bhairavi would make them drowsy  and by the time she was humming slowly ‘Aananda, aananda vembo thegu bandhihudo… Namma  Purandaravithalana Neneyiro…,’ the children would be fast asleep.

Sleep to her was when the wick of the lamp was lowered for the day after everybody had gone to sleep and after she had made all preparations for the next day which was only four to five hours away.

Was Ajji required to walk on a treadmill for half-an-hour everyday so her abdomen remained flat as recommended by health pundits?

After her family was fed and the house had been spruced up, in the evening she would take a walk to Rama Mandira for a harikatha kalakshepa by Venkoba Dasaru or visit Krishna temple for a bhajane during Gokulashtami or drop everything at hand and sprint  at midnight to friend Tunga’s grandchild down with serious case of dysentery.

There she would  prepare and administer her own naati medicine and  stay there till the first feed stabilized and return home at daybreak after seeing the return of faint smile on the child’s  lips.

Tomorrow was another day.