Pishol : the bio-degradable brush

by Pantaleon Fernandes

Green techniques for restoration

We’re in the month of May and the numerous roadside crosses and tiny shrines in the village are spruced up for their annual litany. A couple of labourers scrape the structures with a wire brush to rid it of the previous year’s coat of mildewed lime. They then dissolve white lime powder in a bucketful of water, apply the paint with nylon hair brushes and the job is done.

In earlier times, whitewashing the crosses, shrines, chapels and churches was a meticulous operation that engaged a group of dedicated men. These were not casual labourers hired and fired for the job but were experts who usually  spent their entire lifetimes to painting the same structures year after year right from their childhood till old age forced them to retire.

These were diligent men who slaked their own lime, filtered it, and often tinged it with gum and indigo to improve cohesion and whiteness. They did not use the wire brush to scrape but sonna (coconut outer shell) and then a virachi saron (broom made out of palm leaf), and then settled to paint. Neither did they use the short brushes for small chapels and crosses but fabricated their own brush?the pishol  with a handle long enough to reach below the waist and above the head, thus eliminating the need to bend and the use of a ladder, both a waste of energy and time. And the best part was that these brushes were made from locally available materials and discarded plant parts.

A white washed roadside cross

Sixty year old Mario Ratos from Benaulim has spent thirty-five years of his life painting churches and chapels white. He began by assisting his father who was a professional white washer. He also helped his father in making their homemade brushes, before assembling them on his own and undertaking his own jobs.

Mario explains the making of the pishol (brush), “After a banana bunch was cut off from the plant, the latter was truncated at the base and discarded. We collected such banana stems and brought them home.  After drying them well, we divided them into pieces of ek hath (one and a half foot) each. These were split longitudinally and kept aside. When a job came calling, this kedia add (banana plant stem) was arranged around a bamboo pole of a suitable length (five to six feet) and tied. Coir string was used to provide strength, and vaye (fibres pulled out from a palm leaf midriff) used to keep the kedia add fibres at the base in place. The tip was tied at intervals of four inches each using jute fibres. The pishol was now ready.”

Mario says that they made this pishol at home for various reasons. First and foremost being made of natural materials available in the village, it was almost free. “The stick eliminated the use of a ladder cutting the work time by half. Standing on firm ground we also felt safe and worked with greater efficiency.”

“Once the pishol was used for a few hours, the tip got worn out. A jute string tied at the end had to be untied to release brushing fibres. At the end of a hard day’s work, the entire brush would get work out. When we got home, we had to make a new pishol using only a fresh kedia add, the other parts being reused.”

Of late however, the new breed of painters does not know of our pishol. They just use the readymade short brushes available in the market. “I have given up white washing churches due to my ill health. Whenever I pass by the churches of Navelim, Chinchinim, Sarzora, chapel at Sirlem, I remember my heydays.”

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