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Kalai Walas - the living heritage
With the widespread usage of stainless steel in urban areas, the sight of 'Kalai walas', who would set up their unit on a roadside, or in the courtyard in a locality, and get our brass utensils tinned, has become almost extinct.

THE SILVERY shine and the polish is wearing off from the brass utensils in the urban Indian kitchens. Our nostrils may miss the smell of ammoniac fumes and ears the shrill sound of cooling of utensils around us.

Recently I came across a rare sight of 'Kalai Wala' in one of the sectors of Panchkula (Haryana). Pritam Singh with yellow pataka on his head, claims to be over 95-year-old arrives on a wheelchair from the nearby village Maulijagran, Chandigarh. He slowly alights from his vehicle and settles down on the ground.

His call ‘Bhande Kalai Kara lo’ (Get your utensils tinned) is not so powerful now as it used to be few years ago before he met with an accident. But his call is sufficient to draw the attention of few housewives and other passersby. In a short span of time the brass utensils and the cookware are out for tinning.

Traditionally known as Kalai Walas, they are no less than community craftsmen. Great skill lies in giving a metallic coating on the brass and copper utensils.

Pritam Singh is not very optimistic about this profession. Looking deep into the sky, he says, “Business prospects are glooming day by day. This art has lost the charm after stainless steel utensils have replaced the brass and copper utensils in the kitchen.”

Usually a 'Kalai Wala' adopts a very simple process. He prepares a temporary blast furnace and airs it with bellows; now it is done with the pump. He holds the brass utensils firmly with the forceps and places on coal fire and pumps the air with the other hand. The utensil becomes pinkish hot after the blast. Then he sprinkles Aluminum Chloride (Naushadar) powder. Deep white smoke starts emanating with a peculiar smell. Then a small piece of virgin tin is touched to the hot interior of the utensils. This is done with utmost care.

Tin melts quickly which is spread uniformly with the piece of cloth on the inner surface of cookware so as to give a silvery lining. Thereafter the utensil is dipped into the bucket containing water till the temperature becomes normal and the utensil has cooled down. While doing so a smell of ammoniac fumes fills the air with a shrill sound of cooling of the utensils.

Persons like Pritam Singh are a rare sight in the urban areas of Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula. The art of shining the utensil is vanishing from the Indian urban scene. But surely Pritam Singh ‘Kalai Wala’ definitely comes in the list of Living Heritage.

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