Not many may realize the importance of a ‘Pakkad’ or a ‘Sansi’ which is very common and useful thing seen in the Indian kitchens. The Pakkad comes useful when putting off hot pots and pans off the stove, grip vegetables to grill over an open fire or sometimes lift a bowl of glowing embers with smouldering incense over it to get rid of the damp smell from rooms during monsoons and of course in the present situation of COVID it can be used for contact less cooking.
One does find tongs, a bit sophistically designed than our ‘Chimta’, but the scissor styled pakkads or another variation looking like a claw is nowhere to be seen. It’s a bit of a surprise not to find the pakkad in other countries except for the scissor like barbeque tongs, flimsy kind not to grip the utensils like the pakkad. It is understandable that cooking pots in other countries come with a handle and Indian cooking pots do not have handles, but when it comes to the fact that hands spread infection that’s when the usefulness of the humble pakkad is recognized.
When it comes to Indian cooking, tasting and eating habits, then contactless and contamination-less food makes sense. For centuries, banana leaf or other non toxic leaf plates and unglazed terracotta drinking cups called ‘Kulhad’ were used. They were truly disposable, posing no threat to the environment as they were bio-degradable. Similarly, sharing of food from each other’s plates was not accepted as it posed threat of contamination, and may be today after reopening of restaurants after a long lockdown; restaurants must have restrictions of sharing food from each other’s plates as also the servers replenishing the thalis, be well equipped with masks and serve from a distance.
Indians quite pre-occupied with what is called ‘jootha’, that is to say contamination from one’s saliva and for the same reason a used water cup or sharing meals from each other’s plates is strictly forbidden. For the very same reason many family ladies do not taste the food while cooking, if they have to taste, they will do so with a spoon and wash their hands all over again and then only resume cooking. Some very strict households will and especially Tamil Brahmins eat their food by making small balls of the food and throwing it into their mouths without letting their fingers touch their own mouths.
The kitchens of yesteryears were also floor level and encouraged contactless cooking as the person cooking would be seated on the ground and hands working horizontal. Earthenware pots or metallic pots when placed on a wood or cow-dung fire stove would heat the handles, hence making handles futile. Diseases like cholera being quite common in India but nonetheless there has been emphasis quite naturally for systems of hygiene to survive.
But in India there is the caste distinction and caste aloofness making things a bit more complicated. The caste contamination which comes from touching, the non-contact practice helps to eliminate and daily interactions are eased. By way of using the pakkad one can prevent touching the handle touched by many and pour maybe tea directly from the vessel into separate cups maintained for family members and separate drinking cups generally kept to reserve guests and visitors. A further separation of crockery is for domestic-help and servants engaged in daily chores.
One can simplify and counter such cultural barriers either by ignoring the caste defilement and focus more on practical aspects. Today on social media too one finds various accounts of Indian culture and its sanity, the practicality of justifications prove that Indians know best and any other suggestions are taken contrary to branding it as anti-national, making it easier to slide in justifications for practices such as caste aloofness the original ‘Social distancing’.
The caste classification has its own ill effects and is a subject of ridicule, but without taking into account its practical aspects. It happened so; many years back when some politicians just to superficially show that they were free from cast barriers dined with Dalits or people belonging to the lower caste in Indian caste system in their homes were seen using hand sanitizers, perhaps cleansing themselves from caste contamination. Sanitizers were seen with utmost suspicion as until the COVID which give hand sanitizers a new recognition making our hands move forward automatically for a spurt of hand sanitizers.
Also in the situation of this pandemic there has been a big debate whether non vegetarian food is responsible for the virus in China’s meat market. One such eruption of this situation is appraisal of India’s vegetarian food culture and denounce the meat eaters. One approach was to claim that the upper caste in India is vegetarians and eating non vegetarian is a lower caste trait. But India whose vegetarian cuisine is quite developed and recognised, needs no caste endorsements from a virus.
The worth consideration is India’s non-contact cooking habits, the disposable eating plates and cups over the plastic disposable plates, cups and delivery containers. We must pay heed and agree to pay a price for such kinds of disposals which are environmentally friendly as well as create rural employment opportunities. Also restaurants must follow the thali-type food service wherein food sharing from each other’s plates is forbidden. Lastly try to promote more use of pakkads and especially in countries outside India to promote contactless cooking to tackle the threats of COVID.