Click to enlarge. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
This photo was taken in 1921 by Clain and Perl studio, Madras. It was commissioned by the Basel Mission. That is why the women have their breasts covered during a period when that was not the practice for the low caste. (Interesting Old Photos From Malabar)
The hair style of the ladies in the picture is interesting. Two of the women have their hair done in doughnut shape. That was quite common those days. In fact I remember seeing this coiffure in my childhood. It was much later that the style was discarded.
This picture presents the pounding and sorting of paddy. Those days there were no rice mills in Kerala. One could buy rice that came in sacks from outside the State. This was known as chakkari. It smelled and the taste was not good. People preferred locally grown grain.
Paddy was de-husked manually in mortars using pestles. In big houses there were two types of mortars, one made of stone, and the other of wood, normally anjili (see Anjili, a tree of many uses). There would be a battery of them. The sound of pestles pounding on the rice in the mortars (usually women did this) had a musical note to it.
In Kerala it was always boiled rice that was used for meals. There are two types of boiled rice – oruppuzhukkan (once boiled) and eruppuzhukkan (twice boiled). The former is softer and broken. That is nurukkari or the table rice. There are different sizes of broken pieces. These are sorted. The smaller ones are more easily digestible. They are kept away to be used when someone is sick.
The double boiled paddy is harder and do not get broken while de-husking. It is nediari which is more difficult to digest. That is meant for the workers. I believe that some hotels also use this.
There were many, particularly small holders, who cultivated paddy but outsourced the pounding of the product. Women of several poor families earned partial livelihood by doing this. They would take home measured quantities of paddy from the houses, de-husk and return it. The payment was always in kind.
The photo above shows a team of women attending to this work.