Cultural Origami

Arshid Malik

Someone has to come out honest, I guess, and why not me. Look I am definitely not trying to be a hero here, but since all villains have disgusted us with their hackneyed dialogues someone has to step up. I am talking culture and tradition here, or am I. Well, I am in an abject condition of health while I write this column today – bronchitis to be precise, and my mind is all fuzzy because of that and you might very well have guessed the latter part since you are a keen reader. Anyways, this is not another cock and bull story I am narrating here as is my forlorn habit but rather I am attempting to tempt you to salvage a cause here because I am all in for the cause and effect relationship and do believe me it is very complex and the consequences are rather very dire to be ignored.

My subject or rather object of interest here is the traditional fire pot of Kashmir – the name fire pot makes it sound like some galvanized heat projectile that was part of the bygone artillery of the middle ages, although this very thought rings a bell. “Kangri” which has bumped upon a very brazen transliterated name of the “fire pot” finds immense importance within the cultural-traditional circle of the Kashmir and all that it is actually about.  The warmth that the “Kangri” provides to the population of Kashmir is unparalleled and I somehow find it akin to the warm embrace of the child and the mother.

The “Kanrgi” has been there for ages and while it underwent a lot of transformation from a bare earthen pot to a willow-clad earthen pot to a peculiarly ornamented work for art with an infusion of a dozen odd colours and now it almost on the brink of near extinction and that is my cause of worry and the point to which I wish to draw your kind attention.

The traditional “Kangri” of Kashmir has played its role vitally in “all walks of life”. While it was mainly used to provide intimate warmth to the human body it was also used as (find some earlier resonance) a blistering projectile of a weapon in street fights in Kashmir. When the fight between neighbours, or friends and foes walked towards the penultimate climax the “Kangri” was used as weapon and the “splinters” that were actually remarkably hot coals flew in all directions and often led to collateral damage to the bystanders.

A foul word would very often be spewed along with hot projectile of a weapon and somehow that lent fervour to the actual speed at which this projectile would travel. No, the “Kangri” was not as always used as a weapon but served other domestic purposes too.

As children we were taught to bury a potato under the ashen and burning charcoal of the “Kangri” and this potato would cook under the simmering heat of the “Kangri” while the pressure developed due to the evaporation of the natural water content of the potato contained by the covering ashes would add a distinct mellow tint to this benign “dish” not to mention the smokiness of flavour that characteristically added some extra dash of “home-made-ness” to the potato. Once the potato was done it would be dug from the deep, skinned and with a dash of salt and chilli powder be savoured by the cook in question.

Water chestnuts would also find their way to the bottom of the “Kangri” to be soaked in the gentle heat of the container and cooked to perfection. Other recipes were tried time and again and each one “emerged” delicious, and I would not like to mention that some people would roast mutton in this delightful earthenware full of charcoal and ash.

And this incredible kitchen would go to work under the secretive cover of the “Pheran” – the Kashmiri winter cloak.

If you are a smoker you might often have encountered situations where you had a cigarette and teh desire to smoke it but without a light. “Kangri”, to the rescue which you would definitely be carrying had you been a Kashmir striving through the winters and the light was just an “arm’s-length away” in the shape of sizzling coals. And if you smoked the “Hukkah” – the hubble-bubble (what an ugly name for a shapely, magnificently crafted indulgence) then the “Kangri” was the only option you had.

Now, the gas heaters and electric blowers have found inroads to our homes and the “Kangri” somehow seems to be on the way out. We are trying to match up with the footsteps of the Europeans, leaving behind our rich and glorious past. Now, how much can electric blowers or gas heaters imported from Germany and elsewhere provide you besides the dangerous fumes and shock hazards? Think. We are at the very end of a saga of multitasking warmth and this is a story that turns out to be sad. This is where I would request the intervention of your brilliant interference in this cultural origami.


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