Hookah business is slow these days; it used to be good before 1947. There were eight workshops here, now it’s just me. I was an apprentice with a hookah maker for four years. I learnt the craft from him. My grandfather was into some other field of work. I kept working with my father and learnt the craft slowly. Earlier, the workshop was in the main bazaar; we shifted here recently. Everyone else moved on to other crafts. But I did not.
Only one or two hookahs can be made in a day. It’s made of bamboo from inside; we get the bamboo from Himachal. Aluminum wire is used on the outside. The wire has to have three layers. The first one is a lighter layer followed by a colorful one, which is then finished with the top layer. Pipe making is an intricate process. The bamboo is filled with sand. We mark the cuts, drill holes through them and give bamboo a curved shape on a fire flame. We bend it slowly on low flame and dip it into water for thirty seconds afterwards.
One hookah is sold for 300 to 450 Rupees. The price goes up depending upon the length of aluminum wire used. Earlier it was sent to places like Hoshiarpur, Nakodar, Noor Mehal, and Himachal. The demand has faded these days; people have started chewing tobacco and take drugs. People have stopped smoking from hookahs. Hookah is not harmful since the sit is filtered through water. Women used to smoke it too.
Sales have dropped from the last 15-20 years. We also sell tobacco – one and a half kg for 60 rupees. I have smoked it a lot in the past. After the arrival of LPG cylinders in homes, no body uses coal anymore. That’s the reason I stopped smoking hookah. Earlier, people used dungcakes and firewood for cooking, which could later be used for hookah. It had been popular in Punjab and Haryana. It is still used in Haryana. If there is an order, we fulfill it. I had eight more artisans working with me. Now there is none.
I am 92 years old now. I have kept away from drugs. I have never been ill. It is all grace of Allah. I did not indulge in any extravagances; I have lived on plain bread and butter. I had 6 daughters and 4 sons. All are married and have their own children. I have done the same work all my life. My father did the same work too. During ’47, I used to keep a vigil to be safe from attacks too. There were no riots in Malerkotla. I was 15 years old. I used to help in rehabilitation by bringing medicines and aid for the riot victims who arrived from elsewhere. They would leave for Pakistan after a couple of weeks.
I did not study but played games like Gulli Danda all the time. Education was not given importance. Parents were more interested in getting children to learn a skill or craft so that he can earn some money. Education became more important recently. Earlier, it used to be all about being skilled workers. One could live on less money. Earn 2-4 annas and that would be enough for the daily bread. Those days every shop in the city had a hookah. It takes fifteen-twenty minutes to start the hookah. After it is initiated, four five people can smoke it. On every event or function, it was kept in the middle to smoke and talk to each other. It was a communal thing.
Text: Jasdeep Singh
Edits: Sangeet Toor