Feature: Kashmir’s Kangri specialists: The People of Okai

Raashid Hassan

‘Kangid Gassi aasin, Batti Matti aestan’ is a Kashmiri proverb which means the Kangid (traditional Kashmiri fire pot) is more important than food for a Kashmiri in winters.

For a week now, the cold conditions in Kashmir have intensified and Shopian district has been the coldest place, even colder than Gulmarg and Pahalgam this time. For many here, the Kangid, or Kangri, is the lone means to keep oneself warm.

The making of Kangri is being carried out at many places, like in Chrar-i-Sharif in district Budgam, Pinjora and Balpora in Shopian, and many other places, but Okai village in district Kulgam is considered as the largest producer of Kangris.

According to locals, about 100 households in this village of about 600 households are doing the job of Kangri making. They say that on average, a person is able to make 1500 Kangris through the year.

Okai village is situated some five kilometers from district headquarters of Kulgam on the Anantnag-Shopian road. It supplies about two lakh Kangris every year to all parts of Kashmir.

Muhammad Shafi Bhat, one of the Kangri makers in Okai, said that though he does not belong to the Shaksaz caste, who are traditionally the Kangri makers, but he is doing this job for more than two decades.

“I am the first in my family who opted for this job, and so are the 30 other farmer families who started doing it despite it not being their hereditary job,” he said.

Bilal Ahmad, another local, said that there is a Shaksaz locality where everyone is doing this job for decades. “They supply Kangris to most parts of south Kashmir,” Ahmad informed.

Locals said that 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh Kangris are being supplied from this village to other areas every year.

Bashir Ahmad Shaksaz, a Kangri maker from the village, said that they sell the Kangris at the cheapest rates in Kashmir. “We mostly use willow sticks for Kangri making, which costs less than the Kaech sticks,” he explained.

Kangri makers say that they were earning handsomely from the work until middlemen came into the trade, after which the rates started declining.

“The rates are not declining for customers but they take the amount for themselves after buying it at low costs from us,” Ali Muhammad, a local, said.

He added that since the locals are busy in making Kangris round the year, the dealers buy them at different stages of the year and sell them at higher costs during winters. — Kashmir Reader