The firewall against cold

Kangris being sold in Srinagar.

Srinagar and some parts of Jammu and Kashmir are reeling under severe cold wave conditions with mercury plummeting to sub-zero degree on some days. Woollen clothes and thermal wear are not good enough to cope with bone-chilling cold in this northern state. Tourists not exposed to extreme cold conditions will not dare to venture out of their rooms.

Many use kangri (a fire pot popular in Kashmir) that helps the people to beat the extreme cold.

Kangris sell literally like hot cakes during this part of the year. Kangri makers cash in on the situation and make a fast buck around this time. Of course, they will have to face hardships to make a few extra bucks. They have to sell their wares, in various shapes and designs, amidst snowfall and blistery winds.

Thirty-five-year old Fayaz Ahmad is one such trader, who has been moving in Lal Chowk in Srinagar, almost daily to sell kangris. Fayaz, who lives in Charar-e-Sharief in central Kashmir, leaves home early in the morning to sell the kangris, made by his family members, in Srinagar city. Because of freezing cold in winter, the kangris are in great demand in Kashmir. Kashmir has already experienced snowfall - light in plains and heavy in upper reaches. The early snowfall has led to sub-zero temperature during night and intense cold during the day.

The electric and gas heaters have not been able to drive kangri makers out of business. Kashmiris have been using kangris for ages to keep themselves warm during the peak winter.

Kangris by themselves are useless without “phiran” (a long loose woollen gown), which are usually worn at homes. Some private sector companies permit their
employees to use phirans during winter in the office.

Politicians, particularly Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Dr Farooq Abdullah and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, addressing public meeting in phirans is a common sight. There is no ban on use of phirans in government offices, but ministers, bureaucrats and other government officials avoid using them in work places.

Women are lucky as they can use the specially made phiran in offices if they wish to.

Many consider using phirans in offices as inappropriate. The fire pot is used inside the phiran.

“I prefer kangri to electric heaters, as it is portable and can be used in most places unlike a heater. Kangri also gives the feeling of being in Kashmir,” said Mushtaq Mohammad, a youth.

The price of kangri varies. An ordinary firepot is sold between Rs 60 and Rs 75. The prices could go up to as high as Rs 2,500 depending on the art work and
design on kangris. There is a specialty as some are made only for newly-weds. Like many other household articles, the brides carry them to their in-laws’ houses.

For making a kangri, wicker is woven on an earthen pot and for holding it with hands, special handles are also woven.

The kangris of Charar-e-Sharief are famous for their design and sold across the Valley. We make the kangris throughout the year, said Fayaz. All the six members in his family make the firepots.

“For the wicker, we  go to Keller in south Kashmir. We store the kangris and sell them only in winter as we get very good price for our product,” he said.

According to him, many customers buy kangris from his home. But the number is negligible. As they manufacture kangris on large scale, they look for markets to sell them.  Kangris are also made at Bandipora, Zakoora, Pinjurah and other places in the Valley. If handled properly the ‘kangri’ can last for two to three years.

After the mass migration of Pandits from Kashmir in early 1990, kangri has reached Jammu also. Large number of fire pots are exported from Valley to Jammu for the Pandits in winter. Even the Kashmiri government employees who have to move to Jammu from Srinagar with the shifting of government headquarter for six months, use the kangris at their homes.

Winter in Jammu is not as harsh as in Kashmir. Unlike Srinagar there is no snowfall in Jammu and its adjoining areas and the winter lasts for a couple of months starting from December. “Kangri reminds me of my home in Kashmir,” said Sohan Lal, a Kashmiri migrant in Jammu. “The circumstances forced us to leave our homes and I want to return to Kashmir permanently and experience the snowfall with kangri in my hand,” he added.
Sohan Lal was in Srinagar for three days for some personal work and had to return to Jammu. “I have a home in north Kashmir but can not live there after migration. I had to stay in a hotel in Srinagar,” he lamented.

Use of kangris has its own set of problems. Doctors warn that excessive use of kangris could lead to cancer. Some have the habit of using kangris while sleeping to keep themselves warm. There have been fire mishaps because of using them during sleep.       
“My bedding was burnt as the kangri overturned during my sleep. I immediately was woken up by my family members and a major mishap was averted,” recalled Suhail Khan, a student.

With passage of time, kangris have become weapons in the hands of miscreants. They are used like mocktails and petrol bombs by trouble makers to attack their rivals. Some persons had sustained burns in such attacks. "We are happy that the protests in Kashmir have almost come to an end now after six months. The angry mob throws fire pots on cops during the violent protests in winter,’ says Mehboob Ahmad, a police man.

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