CUNCOLIM: In today’s fast-evolving world, it’s not very common to come across families that keep alive practices and professions that date back several thousands of years. The Pathrut family of craftsmen, who live in Demani, famous for being the artisans’ ward of Cuncolim town, struggle to earn their daily bread, but doggedly keep at their millennia-old practice of stone craft. The Pathruts handcraft stone grinders and mortar-and-pestle sets, a kitchen appliance that has been used by humans since the stone-age, and has unfortunately become almost obsolete.
This family, which originally hailed from Maharashtra, migrated to Goa almost fifty years ago, in search of a better standard of living. However, very little has changed for them, as they still live in the same hut on the roadside with their extended family, and still spend their days hammering and chiselling away at hard stones to shape them into the antiquated kitchen tools.
Apart from stone grinders of different shapes and sizes, the Pathrut family also the traditional ‘Dante’, which is use to grind wheat and rice to flour, and also shape beautiful stone art pieces, including idols of deities and carved stone tulsi vrindavan, the small altar-like podium that houses the scared tulsi plant, usually kept in the garden or the central courtyard in traditional hindu houses.
“There was a time Goans used to use these stone grinders to powder spices, herbs and grind masala paste for traditional curries and gravies. It was the main kitchen accessory. However, times have changed and people have now shifted to electric grinders and mixers. Spices are widely brought already-powdered and flour and masalas are available ready-made and packaged,” rues Vilas Pathrut, the patriarch of the family. While he admits that these short-cuts in cooking may be convenient and time-saving, he insists that the real taste of Indian spices and traditional chutneys are championed only when ground in a stone grinder, as the slow maceration allows the flavours to develop better.
Apart from Vilas, his wife, children and brothers are also involved in crafting these grinders, as it is their ancestral profession, and they have been unable to make a shift to a more lucrative occupation.
They participate in every zatra and feast fair and also exhibit their wares on the National Highway in Demani, at a stall set up near their hut.
“Very rarely do customers stop and pick up our grinders, and we struggle to make ends meet. Since there is no longer any demand for large grinders, we have begun to craft small grinders and mortar-and-pestles, which are used to crush small quantities of spices and condiments. The tiny grinders are also gaining popularity as show-pieces, and we get a good response for our tulsi vrindavans,” added Vilas.
Business is however slow, as there are hardly any repeat customers for their wares, as a stone grinder is often an investment for life. Akash Pathrut, Vilas’ 20-year-old son was born in Goa, and said that he along with his sister and cousins also play their part in the family business. Akash has completed his HSSC, while his sister and cousins are still studying.
“I am Goan by birth and I am proud that my family is involved in making stone articles, as it is the craft of my ancestors. We earn our daily bread from a noble profession, why should I shy away from it, or be ashamed that we are not very successful?” quips Akash, adding that he helps his father sell their wares but may not keep at the craft if he gets an alternative job.kl