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HOOKED TO HUKKAH

Most Saturday nights, Ninaad Rahtogi chills with friends at a neighbourhood café, sipping coffee and passing on the hukkah. “Hukkah smoking is all about style,”says the 23-year-old management student. At another lounge, engineering student Kruthik Parekh, 22, is equally hooked on as he takes a long puff. “I love the smooth taste,” he says.

One of the cardinal rules of hukkah or sheesha smoking is sharing. Puneet Kumar, Sr Asst Outlet Manager, Mocha, Mumbai elaborates, “After every puff, you pass it on to the next person. Because it is not just about smoking, it’s a part of socializing. So you get a feeling you are out with people.”

With comfortable yet luxurious floor cushions that you can sink into, no time limits and delicious food to go with it, these bars satiate all your senses. There are more than 120 flavours of hukkah – apple, strawberry, peach, banana, mint, rose and coffee, to name a few. Some cafes even create special flavours for their customers. At Sheesha in Huma Adlabs, Kanjurmarg for instance, you can order a special hukkah, where the water of the sheesha is also flavoured.

Hukkah — also called narghile, sheesha and goza — is a water pipe. The device has been used for centuries in the Middle East and Asia to smoke tobacco. In its new, modern avatar, however people don’t associate it with tobacco or smoking. Or at least not the harmful side of it.

“The USP is that with hukkahs you don’t suffer any ill effects of cigarette smoking. It’s pretty safe,” says Kumar of Mocha. Hukkahs do have tobacco, but the amount is very less, goes the popular belief. Experts tell you the trick is not to inhale. That way you don’t get a high either.
As student Rohit Soneji declares, “What is most appealing is that it is not addictive like cigarette smoking.”

BUT IS HUKKAH TRULY HARMLESS?

It is said that hukkah is not the same as smoking a cigarette because hukkah smoke is filtered through water before it is inhaled. A lot of young people – who don’t smoke otherwise – feel ‘safe’ about puffing on the hukkah. They think it’s nothing more than inhaling flavoured smoke. And surely that can’t be dangerous.

However, recent studies have found that hukkah smokers actually inhale more nicotine than cigarette smokers because of the massive volume of smoke they inhale. This smoke contains toxic compounds including carbon monoxide.

“A typical one-hour session of hukkah smoking exposes the user to 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette. Even after passing through the water, the tobacco smoke produced still contains high levels of toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide, heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens),” informs Dr Chaudhary, medical advisor, Tobacco Counsel.

The trend of hukkah smoking has doctors and public health experts concerned because — despite the claim of many users — smoking from a hukkah is just as dangerous as smoking a cigarette. Dr Prakash C Gupta, Director, Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health says, “Hukkah being safe is a complete myth. Tobacco smoke in any form is injurious to the lungs, even if it passes through water. The toxicants, due to higher concentration unfortunately do not get dissolved. Carbon monoxide and high levels are nicotine are not soluble and are very much present and active in a hukkah. Just because one smokes a costly machine, with flavour, and in a plush atmosphere doesn’t mean he’s safe or any different from cigarette smokers.”

So if you do puff on a hukkah, it’s your choice. But do be aware of the risk involved.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

The origins of the hukkah are believed to lie in the border areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat, nearly a millennia ago. These hukkahs were simple, primitive and rugged in design, usually made from a coconut shell base and tube with a head attached. They were called the ‘peace pipe’ for smoking opium and hashish. The hukkah made its way through the Persian Kingdom, which included Pakistan, Afghanistan, much of Middle Asia and Arab parts of Northern Africa.

In the Middle-East, hukkah architecture evolved to ornate crystal and earthenware. Later, brass and steel were introduced and it didn’t take along for the hukkahs to become a form of artistic expression, and a form of social smoking.

THE LEGEND

As they say, there is no smoke without fire. Let’s go back to where it all began. The story is indeed interesting. A Jordanian riddle evokes the feminine sheesha figure,”Who is this princess standing in her palace with her hand on her hip?” The baluster body, elegant and rounded, indeed evokes the shape of a woman; the pipe bowl is similar to a crown. As for the hose curve coiling up around the mast, it can easily be compared to the arm outline. Finally, the palace is a metaphor for the atmosphere in which a sheesha session ideally takes place – pillows, tapestries, vegetation, and so on.

For the genuine sheesha buff, the initiation is through premium Egyptian tobaccos. In any kasbah of West Asia, the sheesha man delivers a tray of tobacco capsules to the table. Guests check out the aroma of each and then settle for one.

During the hukkah delivery, the hukkah man arrives at the table with a special potion. This could be a special Turkish potion or Egyptian, even some local stash. It is first gently poured into the palms to stimulate the senses. This apparently prepares the guest for the ultimate smoking experience. Don’t expect to find this at any hukkah lounge in India though..

HUKKAH ETIQUETTE

The golden rule – never smoke a hukkah with your left hand. The left hand is considered unclean in many Middle Eastern countries.

Never light a cigarette from the coals on the hukkah. Doing so would show disrespect to the hukkah. When you first start smoking your hukkah, try placing the charcoal on the outside of the bowl,” advises Kumar at Mocha, who has mastered the art of lighting hukkahs.

Always rest the hukkah on the ground. “Traditionally, the sheesha should not be placed on a table. It should be at a level lower than your seating,” points out a hukkah buff. “But these days all cafes serve hukkahs on table. Bad manners!”

Never pass the hukkah directly to another person. “The right way is to first put it down on the floor and let the next person pick it up,” says Kumar.

The water in the sheesha should be ice cold; this makes for a smoother and more enjoyable smoking experience. “You can put ice in the glass base of your hukkah to make the water ice cold,” Adds Soneji. “I always ask the café guys to do that.”

And never, never blow the smoke towards someone’s face. “It is considered very rude and impolite,” warns Soneji.

In case you don’t like the flavour offered to you, you can ask for a changeFor a sweeter and perhaps more flavoured smoke, you can add some wine, lemon or orange juice – or any other flavour – to the top two inches of the water in the base of your hukkah. It’s a happier smoke, and you can really taste the wine or juice.

Always store your sheesha tobacco at room temperature. “But make sure it is kept in an air-tight container. This will keep your tobacco from drying up and losing its flavour,” explains Kumar.

Avoid taking too many photos while enjoying hukkah in a hukkah cafe because it spoils the serenity that is created by the hukkah smoke.

ARE YOU CLUELESS TOO?

Dinesh Nambiar,
SIES Nerul
“I don’t think hukkah is harmful. I don’t smoke it. I think it’s a waste of time and money. It’s just glamorous and stuff. But it’s not harmful, surely.”

Roma Das, alumnus,
Khalsa College
“I don’t think hukkah is harmful if taken occasionally. It’s definitely not as harmful as cigarettes. But ya, if you smoke a hukkah very frequently then its obviously bad.”

Pankil Nandu
a student
“Hukkah is surely not harmful. It only consists flavour and not too many harmful substances. Unless, you order for flavours like vodka and wine. Then it obviously will be mixed with alcohol. Otherwise, it’s fun.”

Vinayak Bhatia
MCC
“Hukkah is definitely not harmful. It contains negligible amount of Nicotine. It’s fun to smoke a hookah with friends and its cool actually. I don’t think it’s very harmful.”

Click here to Read part II | Click here to Read part III

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