Jajeer: Our Traditional Hookah

The traditional hookah of Kashmir, locally called Jajeer, holds cultural significance in the rich cultural tapestry of the Valley, though it harbors significant health risks particularly for senior citizens who are seen mostly smoking it at homes, in shops or in their fields. Before cigarettes were in vogue in Kashmir, hookah smoking was rampant. Though nowadays, it is least preferred due to awareness about its ill-effects, yet, it was once a trendy thing among our elders in the society. Also known as water-pipe smoking, it was once popular in Indian sub-continent, and was generally believed to be innocuous because of the passage of the smoke through water before inhalation. There was a common perception among people especially seniors that hookah smoking is safe as the smoke comes through water before being puffed in. But as a matter of fact, the volume of smoke from Jajeer (hookah) is ten times higher than cigarette smoking. The burning temperature of tobacco in a hookah is about 900 degree Celsius which could produce different types of harmful chemicals and toxins. 

The word “hookah” is a derivative of “huqqa”, a Hindi word of Arabic origin, which means casket or water-pipe. This water-pipe was invented by Abul Fath Gilani, a Persian physician of King Akbar in the Indian city of Fatehpur Sikri during Mughal rule. Then this device spread to Persia where it was modified to its current shape by Safavid dynasty and from where it again spread to the Indian subcontinent.

   

Jajeer varies in size and style but a typical one is basically made up of 4 parts. One is an earthen-ware water bowl (base) made up of either brass or copper and is locally known as Jajeer. Next is an inverted J-shaped hose termed as Nalcha in local parlance which is made up of cane wood. Third is, a cloth stopper in the neck of the base, called Gatha and the fourth is, an earthen ware head called Chillum from which there generally dangled small tongs for picking up the live charcoal.

The lower part of the Nalcha was dipped in the water of the conical bowl and the upper part had Chillum on it which contained tamoukh (tambaku) with burning charcoal on it. While the air through mouth-piece of Nalcha was inhaled in, the tamoukh in Chillum would start burning and in minutes would the billows of smoke would go around.

Jajeer smoking by Kashmiri men was commonly known as tamoukh tchun. And the practice mostly was done at Verandas of houses or in the fields either during paddy plantation time or on harvesting season. No sooner one person would start loading Chillum with tobacco than would others start coming around to sip it. Usually shared in groups and passed from person to person, Jajeer smoking site was the main spot for holding tamoukh darbar (meeting on tobacco). However, it was not only men who smoked Jajeer; women also put themselves into practice.

In those days, there was least awareness about law courts. Almost all the issues in rural areas were resolved by holding a meeting locally called as Punjae which was incomplete without the arrangement of Jajeer for the elders in the conclave.

In Kashmir Jajeer is still in vogue at certain places. Most of the farmers take it along to their field with tamoukh dabba (wooden or metal tobacco box with two separate parts; one far tobacco and another for waste-charcoal residue) and Kangri (traditional fire pot).  There are various shops around us where senior shopkeepers still smoke tobacco from hookah. In fact, some days back, this columnist heard an old farmer harvesting in the adjoining rice fields saying to his grand-daughter, “Ate Sozze Jajeer Yaad Kareth Yore” (send Jajeer here, anyhow).

It is interesting to mention here that there were two types of tambaku. One was “gubb tamoukh” (heavy doze) and another “lutte tamoukh” (light doze). And the smokers of Jajeer kept tobacco with them the variety they liked. I recall, there was an Uncle in my village who would often send me to the nearby town to bring tobacco from a shopkeeper who was popularly known among his customers as Nabbe Tamoukh. And on Sundays, he would give me the task of replacing the water of the Jajeer (bowl) from the nearby well in the courtyard.

Despite the thought that it was the safe way of smoking, recent studies proved that hookah smoking is more harmful than the puffing of cigarettes. The smoke produced by Jajeer contains toxin chemicals such as nicotine, carbon monoxide and cancer causing substances which can damage the respiratory system with other vital organs and may cause lung cancer, esophageal cancer, low birth weight and pancreatic cancer, etc. The mouth-piece of Jajeer which is not frequently cleaned, may pose high risk of infectious disease like tuberculosis, hepatitis C, etc.

Tail Piece: We must refrain ourselves from all forms of smoking. Not only does it cause cancer, but it also increases the risk of dying from heart attack and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the Valley.

The author is a teacher by profession.

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