Traditional hookahs disappearing from rural areas

Having originated during the Mughal era, hookah-smoking became an inseparable part of Kashmiri culture
A man smokes traditional Kashmiri hookah.
A man smokes traditional Kashmiri hookah.Chetan Karkhanis/Flickr/Creative Commons

Shopian, Aug 21: A copper vase with floral motifs engraved on its surface sits in a corner of Ashiq Hussain Sofi's newly-constructed home’s lobby in south Kashmir’s Shopian town.

The beautiful silk flowers of red and green colour easily catch the eye of guests visiting Sofi's home. “It was actually the water bowl of a hookah, which I converted into a vase,” says Sofi.

After the death of Sofi's father a few years ago, the family did not find any use of hookah and Sofi converted it into a beautiful vase.

Having originated during the Mughal era, hookah-smoking became an inseparable part of Kashmiri culture and with the passage of time assumed so much significance that hookah was the first thing to be offered to guests, particularly in rural Kashmir.

“From shops to homes to even farms, hookah used to be available everywhere,” said an 80-year-old Abdul Khaliq Dar of Pulwama.

Dar said that a few decades ago, the hookah-smoking sessions would last till late night almost in every household of Kashmir.

“One could hardly imagine a house without a hookah,” he said. “Even important decisions like fixing the marriage of children were made over hookah-smoking sessions.”

Another octogenarian resident said that during weddings, the hookah would find a special place. “People used to have hookahs with different attractive designs,” he said.

However, over the last few years, the hookahs have begun vanishing from the living rooms of the people.

Although no statistical data is available about the declining hookah-smoking trend, dozens of people that Greater Kashmir interviewed said that they had done away with hookah in their homes.

However, they said that there was no decline in smoking as more people in recent years took to cigarette smoking.

“We had two hookahs with copper basins and we sold them for a few plates,” said 50-year-old Javed Ahmad of Shopian.

Ahmad said that he was a pipe-smoker but now smoked cigarettes.

Muhammad Amir, a young smoker, said that youth preferred cigarettes over traditional hookahs.

Shahid Ahmad, who deals in tobacco business, said that during the past many years there had been a significant fall in the sale of tobacco.

“I used to sell 40 to 50 kg of tobacco a day, but now it has come down to 3 to 4 kg,” he said. “There has been a rise in the sale of other tobacco products including cigarettes.”

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