Qalaigars: craftsmen who used to make a living by shining brass ware, are vanishing.
The silvery shine and polish of brass utensils is fast vanishing from urban Indian kitchens with the rapid intrusion of stainless steel and aluminium. Along with it, are disappearing traditional craftsmen whose expertise lay at keeping the brass ware and copper ware ever shining and usable.
Old-timers still remember Qalaigars as those who skilfully coated brass and copper utensils. Long ago, copper utensils were used for cooking due to their high conductivity. However, copper must be lined since it reacts to acidic foods. The copper may discolour the food or even lead to food poisoning. So the utensils needed a Qalai twice or thrice a year.
The Qalaigars used to hawk around in the lanes urging women to get their copper utensils tinned. They dug a pit in the ground and prepared a temporary blast furnace, airing it with bellows. They then heated the utensil, blasting it off and on; sprinkled a little nausadar (ammonium chloride) which gives out deep white smoke and a peculiar ammoniac smell. The powder is then rubbed all over the utensil’s interior or exterior to rid the utensil of any grit and make it more abrasive.
Then a piece of virgin grade tin is touched to the blasting hot of the utensil; the tin melts and is quickly rubbed into whole of the utensil forming a lining of tin in the interior. The utensil is then dipped into a bucket full of water. The sudden contact of the hot utensil with the water creates a shrill and sharp sound that dims with the utensil recovering its normal temperature.
I find a Qalaigar working on roadside in Samana, (Patiala, Punjab). Watch the video: