There is a material difference between the plant stems of wheat and rice. The dry stem of rice plant is flexible and can be easily braided. But it is not so with wheat. Wheat chaff has nutritional value as animal fodder. Dry rice plant stems are non-nutritional fodder; a filler or dietary fibre for the cattle.
Pondering over the problem of parali (stubble) burning suffocating the northern plains, I remember the time when harvesting left no tall stubble. Those were the days when threshing was undertaken with a pair of bulls crushing and crumbling the dried harvest. The yoked bulls pulled a heavy crusher going round and round over the dried harvest separating the grain from the ear. Wheat left chaff, paddy left parali. There was no parali burning of the present day, which started recently after combine harvesters began to leave a tall stubble.
Then, harvesting was a festival. It was a day of reaping the fruits of hard and long labour. The harvesters comprised of all able-bodied men from the village. People took turns harvesting their crops. The women of the family, whose crops were harvested, cooked lunch and dinner for the day. We, kids, looked forward to the harvest festival for riding the crusher attached to the yoked bulls. parali and chaff, or bhoosa, were treasured as fodder for animal stock. Even though dead-tired, the villagers enjoyed the evenings with songs of harvesting. It was almost utopian.
There was nothing like the burning of parali. Whatever little was reduced to ashes was the remnants of weeds only. A great use of parali stems was braiding and weaving the best quality of it into soft mattresses known as manjaris. Also crafted from it were sitting cushions, known even today as binnas. They also created small, round and hollow platforms for the mounting of pitchers.
At that time few schools that existed were in the government sector only. Not to speak of benches and chairs for students, most of us would sit on jute mats spread on the floor. However, the availability of mats depended on the funds available with the school, collected through nominal fee that was in paise and not rupees. Many students had to carry a personal sitting mat along with the school bag. For those who could afford, this mat was a used cement bag made of jute. For others it was a binna made of parali. Soft and cosy, it was kept in a corner of the classroom and was not carried home daily, for no one feared it being stolen.
Today, when the NCR is getting choked, my village grannies still craft manjaris and binnas from parali. I wish the tradition continues even as a practical solution is found to deal with stubble burning.
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