We are really both surprised & pleased to note the high demand for Earthen pots or Matkas or good old Koojaas at Lumiere Organic Home Store this summer.
When most folks make a beeline for Refrigerators, here we are entertaining an enlightened circle of patrons who are actually asking us to stock up on these traditional plain Jane unpolished, porous and breakable terracotta water storage jars for their desks! I mean…isn’t that so heartening for all of us here who are earnest proponents of the Life Organic?!
So off I charged southwards to Kerala to get a stock of elegant Koojaas made of clay. As I drive through the forests adjoining the Western Ghats I cannot help but notice how cruel has been this summer with no real respite so far. All the trees by the side of the road have turned yellow or brown with leaves shriveled up to conserve life. Animals have strayed out as far as the road-Baby elephants and their mothers followed by slowly ambling herd members, Deer…No. I realize this is no wildlife ‘sighting’ to get all thrilled about …It is about quiet desperation, survival and scarcity – of food, fodder, water…It is about the very real palpable danger of having one’s home destroyed by all consuming violent fires that could break out anywhere at any moment…My mouth is parched. I reach out for my plastic water bottle and take a sip. I know there are harmful chemicals like BPA (Bisphenol A) in plastic that cling onto the water molecules and pose a health hazard. Alternatively, drinking water from a clay pot can help improve metabolism without dangerous chemicals like BPA added to the fray. Drinking water from a clay pot can also help maintain a level of testosterone in the body, as opposed to plastic, which in turn reduces the amount of testosterone in our body… I smile a little wryly as all this knowledge , not backed by appropriate action surfaces with that single sip slowly coursing its way down my throat - “Testosterone levels indeed!” I hear an unseen presence irreverently snort not without a little derision” How old are you man, to be worrying about that now?!”
The water inches past my throat and suddenly it comes back to me - the sensation of drinking water from the earthen Kooja my grandmother always stored water in during summer…its particular inimitable brand of gentle ‘just right’ refreshing coolness edged with a particular kind of fragrance as well - a little like drinking in the scent of parched earth as she is showered by a sudden summer rain.
My grandmother knew nothing about her humble kooja’s ability to act like a sensor providing the right pH balance etc. She was just innately wise and so sensible that she added another secret coolant ingredient into her kooja full of hand drawn well water overnight - some sprigs of vetiver root, not the ones sucked dry of all its essential oil as mostly seen in the market today but the real thing full of its natural fragrant essence that quietly strained out by morning. At times she sparingly added a few shavings of Pure Sandalwood as well. Sometimes other herbs I know little of today.
The result was a healing cooling consciousness altering nectar. Vetiver cools and purifies blood. It helps cure ulcers, bad breath and calms the nerves Sandal cools too and is especially good for calming down the heart. Just a glass or two slowly sipped would suffice as I returned from my stints of hectic activity in the sun and then stretched out to cool in the dark innards of the traditional homestead surrounded by greenery with its thick laterite walls and its false ceiling of wooden planks that effectively blocked out the absorbed heat of the clay tile roof.
The koojas are being loaded. I am once more reminded by their kindly makers to ensure that I instruct my urban dweller buyers as to how to clean out their koojas. So here goes:
Every 3-4 days thoroughly clean inside and outside of the koojah with just warm water and a plain fibrous scrubber.
Clay is porous. In the same way, a clay pot is also porous. When water is stored in a clay pot, evaporation happens. This process causes cooling as water particles gain energy in the form of heat, then change to gas and get mixed with air. Heat & moisture circulate throughout the pot (quite opposite to the metal or enamel-lined crockery that we use today.)
But because clay koojas are porous no soap, chemicals or fragrances should be used as clay, being porous, can store traces of all these quite effectively negatively impacting the water stored. After cleaning, the koojas must be necessarily sundried, mouth straight side up and also once, inverted.
At night on my camp bed I recall the thirsty little baby elephant with a silent prayer for all beings on my lips that the rain god may show some mercy and save us all from the ferocity of the current summer that we human beings have ourselves exacerbated through years of fallacious actions.
The coolness of night touches my skin just as the memory of my grandmother and her water kooja does. The Moonlight sieving through the curtains turns into its mildly fragrant reviving water…