“Don’t you dare desecrate my kitchen with this. Take it out right now!”
The prodigal son had come back to the valley years after living abroad. Knowing his family’s love for Kehwa and Sheer Chai, he bought an expensive porcelain tea cup set, decorated with a beautiful floral print as a gift for his mother. The poor man expected to be welcomed with hugs and a steaming hot cup of Kehwa, not his mother’s ire.
But can you blame the mother? After all, Kashmiri Pandits considered porcelain utensils impure like earthen pots — they had to be thrown away after single use.
Unable to throw half his savings away, the son took his opulent tea cup set back abroad. His mother rewarded him with a much awaited serving of Kehwa in a Khos.
Every Kashmiri household has an enviable cabinet of utensils called 'Baankuth' with some special items reserved for guests. However, Khos is an item that straddles the fine line between utensils used daily and those for special occasions. Mornings start with the bubbling sound of Kehwa, dancing to the tunes of hot coal in a Samovar. Each family member would get a Khos and a special napkin to hold the hot Khos as they nibbled on fresh breads from the Kandur with their tea.
Come lunch time, the Khos would double up as a katori (small serving bowl), holding a piece of Roganjosh or Dum aloo. After lunch, everyone sipped lazily on a cup of Sheer Chai to boost digestion — again served in a Khos.
Brass utensils (Kansa) like Khos were made with an alloy of bronze, tin, copper, zinc, and commonly used in Kashmir until the early 1950s and 1960s, when steel became a cheaper and more accessible alternative. However, Khos continued to be used for tea. Serving tea in a steel glass was a big no-no, as it was considered socially inappropriate. It was also difficult to hold on to a hot steel glass, even with a cloth napkin. Hence, brass utensils ruled the household.
Khos: A Social Necessity
Since steel utensils were considered inferior amongst Kashmiri Pandits, utensils made of Kansa metal were used for all social occasions: weddings, traditional rituals, etc. In weddings, parents of the bride would gift her Kansa metal utensils, especially a Khos, Samovar and thaal, to be taken to her marital home. A typical set had one samovar and about 12 Khos cups. "After all, how else would she serve tea to her in-laws?"
Before serving tea, a cloth napkin is handed to the drinker to hold the bronze Khos as it tends to get hot quickly. In fact, if you were to serve tea to guests in a Khos without the napkin, they’d feel insulted:
“Inhone theek se khatirdaari nahi ki (They weren’t very hospitable to us).”
In high-class parties and events, simple cotton napkins were replaced by vibrant hand-embroidered napkins and the Khos had intricate designs carved on it. These carvings extended to other brass utensils too — deech (degchi), ghadva (pot), etc. Drinking tea in a Khos is a collective cultural memory that stays with you whether you’re in the valley or in another country, cradling your porcelain cup.
The joy of cuddling to your Khos cup with a soft napkin, huddled in the warmth of your Pheran is something Kashmiris will never forget.
Scripted by Prakriti Bhat for K&M.