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