Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Washing away your "echchal"

The habit of maintaining a foot long distance between the mouth and spoon dates back to early stages of childhood when my mother had a stern eye on the proceedings in the kitchen. The typical conservative South Indian touch that I inculcated at such a young age under the watchful eyes of my mother has actually made life difficult for me several years later. They are simple set of rules, but when I see the general population bypass them, I have an unexplainable sense of exasperation seething through me. The first feeling I get when I see such things happen is Oh! What would my mother say if she sees this!

The concept of echchal was made clear to me at home when I had just crossed the stage of crawling I guess. It remains distinct in memory to me because at every stage it was explained to me the consequence of not following the general protocols of life. I remember as a toddler, I would follow my mother into the kitchen holding the pallu of her saree, and demanding some offerings from the daily food cooked at home. My mother would ask me to take a small plate, sit in the corner without making any noise and place a small amount of curry or rice on the little plate. She would never be bothered about the mess that I make with that small plate, but my subsequent actions fell under immense scrutiny. She would make it absolutely clear to me that I was not supposed to touch anything until I have washed my hands perfectly. At that stage, I never understood why I was doing what she said. But, I followed without a question. From then on, it became a sort of habit for me to wash my hands as soon as they found contact with my mouth.

A few years later, the habit of going into the kitchen for freshly cooked food to be eaten instantly never ceased. My father, brother and I would find the confines of the kitchen very comforting; the warmth generated from the gas masking the winter of Bangalore. Stealthily, one of us used to take something from the pan on the stove, and put it in our mouth. There would be absolutely no contact between the hand and the mouth, but there she was, ready to confront us, not that we were in a mood to confront her knowing her well over the years. All of us would immediately head to the sink to cleanse the expanse of nothingness sitting in our hands; the nothingness that was looming large in my mother's eyes as if there was sin written all over it. For all our questions, she had a simple explanation, Imagine, if your paati (grandma) or thatha (grandpa) saw you doing this, they would never again eat in our house. She would then start off about how things were different when she grew up. I would love to hear what she would say about the present!

I was lucky enough to be associated with perfect roommates when I came here to do my Masters. All of them took great care to follow the practices taught back at home. No wonder, our house in Rolla was referred to as the House of Protocols. But, none of us really cared. There was no fear of worrying whether the other person has washed his hands or not after tasting something, simply because all of us came from highly similar backgrounds and took great care to live just like the way we lived back in India. At home, we could eat in peace. So, when I eat outside, I just close my mind to the way it is cooked. It is too scary to think about it. That's the sign of having become liberal over the years. It is also amusing to see the reaction of my friends when we head to a hotel and have to eat something from the common plate. Allow this fellow to eat first, otherwise he would not eat!!!

I have also realized that it is very difficult to explain the concept of echchal to a person who has never understood the importance of it. A typical response is, "So, what if you do not wash your hands?" That statement generally is as big a question to me as for him. I have stopped responding to the question and head back with a deep sigh pondering about the times when such things were followed without a question. Times have changed, but you just wish some things do not change ever.


  1. GK sir,

    Another nice article. I can very well relate to what you say. In fact the "dialogues" from mothers are still the same after many years.....I agree with your concluding paragraph....its difficult to understand this concept if you do not follow it.....I just feel its a good and healthy practice that we have been accustomed to from a very young age!!!

    Oh I love that "thatha paati" usage in the sentence. Thats a winner even to this day!!!

  2. Could connect with this instantly. Once again, a nicely written post.

  3. yeah...i remember this ritual bacc home...pretty much lost most of it tho now in rolla...hehehe....

  4. Madan sir,
    Nice to get your views on this, and as always, thanks for a nice comment. Good to know that somebody considers seriously about all these things, and atleast, I am not made to feel like a primitive man :-)

    Connections are generally made easy with Praveen :-)

    You and talking about this topic!!!! I am going to hang myself now :-)

  5. :-)
    Could relate to it. But the answer I was always given was about hygiene.
    Probably that was the better way to convince me. ;)

  6. Cuckoo,
    Yep!! All these things have a scientific reason, though it seems to be on the contrary when seen superficially!

  7. Good observation.

    What most people fail to understand is that it's just about being clean. I have come across people, especially boys, who think its really cool to be dirty and they just go on about how being dirty builds immunity and stuff. Again, it's all a personal preference. We can't change someone's habits nurtured since childhood. It all depends on how you are brought up and how you would want to hold to your habits. Some people with bad habits do change, whereas some with good habits also change. Most people are lazy to keep themselves and their surroundings clean and that's where the fuss begins. That's my thought on your post. To add on, I hate it when people even wash hands in the same sink in which they would've kept their plates, after eating. :)

  8. Chiroti,
    Yep, I too believe in what you said in your last sentence. A lot of them do find it funny, but habits, whether good or bad die hard :-)

  9. Very well written.. truly even though I stayed away from home all along, and don't really mind most things, cleanliness is somehting thts vital to me. Guess its just there because of the way Mom was :)

  10. Shubhika,
    Cleanliness and custom go hand in hand, though many of us don't realise it. It is the intricate relationship that these two share makes life fascinating to understand!!!

  11. You must see how things are in China.People dip their chop sticks in all the dishes ! No concept of plates !!!!!

  12. Suchitra,
    Closing your eyes to these things is impossible :-) In any case, you never know what happens in restaurants! The point is, forget at restaurants, how many of us follow echchal at home?