Sunday, April 3, 2011


The Sunday Tribune features a Caption Contest every week carrying a photograph from everyday life . This Sunday, the feature has the photograph of a Kalaiwala with brass utensils lined up before him and he is holding a patila with forceps over coal fire to do his job. This reminds me of a couplet, we as youngsters, used to recite :

Aashiq aaye the’ milney, bole’ gale’ laga lo
Jab dekha unke’ baap ko toh bole’ -bhande’ kalai kara lo !

The kalaiwala was a common sight in urban areas when brass utensils were in vogue for being used as cookware. Since brass being an alloy of copper and zinc was not considered safe for cooking and keeping cooked stuff, the inner side of the utensils was coated with kalai a shining silvery metal . This was a ritual every six months or so to get a coating of kalai on the utensils to avoid possible health hazards. A kalaiwala passing by on the road would call out loudly and the entire neighbour hood invite him over to have the job done. Brass, patilas and kadahis were brought out. It was a special attraction for us kids to watch him doing his job . The kalaiwala would take down his baggage and sit down on the earth . First of all he would dig into the earth and place the iron mouth of a leather dhonkani in the pit and cover it with soil. Then he would take out some coal from his bag and light a fire in the pit to heat the utensils.The coal was kept burning by pumping air through the dhonkani with upward and downward movement. Once heated, he would take out a kalai-metal wire and write some alphabet or numeral inside and with a cloth wipe over the entire surface. Instantly the utensil was put in a bucket containing cold water and the coated portion of the utensil would come shining bright. In the sixties the charges were anything between Rs 3/- to Rs 5/- per score. This ensured health insurance for at least six months .

The kalaiwala has almost disappeared from the urban scene, thanks to pressure cooker, steel and other cookware and other sophisticated alternatives, which have relegated the brass utensils to oblivion


  1. .

    You made me nostalgic. I miss those loving sights here . I quite often miss the moments I have spent in Urban in Rural India.

    At times I cry bitterly when I read such posts. Not about kalaiwala or the changes taking place in the world around , but I simply go back into mesmerizing memories of my past.

    I fear...Am I too emotional or what ?



  2. At times, it is good to be emotional, Zeal , as this has a cathartic effect also.It is natural for one to be nostalgic, seeing the accelerated pace of change in every walk of life. Technology has proved a boon as well as a bane. I strongly feel there is a visible decline in values as well as warmth in relationships. The rapport we had with the kalaiwala, barber or the dhobi or the dakia those days is completely lost these days !

  3. आपने तो अतीत की यात्रा पर भेज दिया। बर्तन का अचानक सफेद हो जाना किसी जादू से कम नहीं लगता था।
    हाय रे दिन वो मेरे प्यारे प्यारे दिन
    कोई लौटा दे मेरे बीते हुए दिन

  4. भारती जी, अतीत है ही इतना प्यारा. अब तो मानो सब कुछ यंत्रवत्त या यंत्रचलित सा हो गया है. भावनाएं तथा अपनापन तो rare commodity बन के रह गयी हैं. इसलिए यह nostalgia के साथ साथ romanticism भी लग सकता है ! आपने ठीक कहा- कोई लौटा दे मेरे बीते हुए दिन !

  5. What is composition of kalai metal

    1. Kalai is Tin...

      Beautiful article. Brought back memories the days when my mother used to use brass vessels with the tin (kalai) coating till it became difficult finding a kalaiwala in Mumbai where we used to reside. I came across this blog when i was desperately seeking for some information on kalaiwalas, the reason being I just bought one of these vessels for myself yesterday from Kerala. Apparently these vessels are still available in South India. I avoid using modern varieties of cookware and prefer using iron woks & mud pots. Therefore I was thrilled to see this vessel. I bought the vessel without giving a second thought only to realise the trouble i am going to have finding a kalaiwala in Bangalore where I reside now :( and that is how I came across this article. The man in the shop I purchased it said he could do it for me. So I would actually have to go to kerala to get it done every time i need to. Anyone reading this blog know of kalaiwalas in Bangalore, plz let me know.

    2. you can get it done in ulsoor. The exact place is next to anjenaya temple opposite to ulsoor market.