KARACHI: “There was a time when people bought sacks full of charcoal from us and came back to buy more the next day. But today gas for cooking has taken the place of coal and reduced our sales,” says Mohammad Saeed.
“The snack bars and restaurants still buy from us for barbecuing but other customers only come here around Bakra Eid. Those who love barbecued meat have now bought gas grills and they don’t come to us at all,” he adds while sitting up on a charpoy inside his shop surrounded by logs and other wooden waste from which he manufactures charcoal off Queens Road.
And how does he do that? “By creating a depression in the ground, placing the pieces of wood in it and burning them before covering them up with mud to deprive them of air,” he says. “After a while, what you are left with is charcoal that you can burn for preparing the most delicious food in the world. No meat cooked in gas ovens or over gas grills and stoves can match the flavour of a barbequed tikka, kebab or boti prepared over charcoal,” he challenges. Well, no arguments there.
At another, much bigger stall in Delhi Colony, there are sacks of coal piled up to the ceiling with the price — Rs50 per kilogram — painted on a wall for all to see so that they don’t waste any time in bargaining.
Still, Khairunnisa comes there to buy four kilograms for Rs100 only. “It’s okay. She is our regular customer. She comes here every day,” says Khan, the stall owner’s assistant before weighing charcoal for her to take with her.
“I buy this much every day for my son, who sells roasted corn on the cob and chickpeas from his pushcart,” says Khairunissa.
Meanwhile, Khan says that they don’t make coal as Mohammad Saeed does. “We buy in bulk from Balochistan and Sindh,” he says.
Besides cooking, charcoal also has other uses. For instance, it is used for eliminating odours. You can place a piece or two of charcoal in a bowl in the room or you may put it in a plastic bag to keep inside your refrigerator or cupboards or drawers to kill odours.
Another use is to place a piece of charcoal in your vase before pouring in the water and placing cut flowers in it for decoration. It will help keep the water clean and clear and your flowers will last longer that way.
You can break a piece of charcoal into smaller pieces to spread them over the soil in your flower beds, too. This keeps the soil moist while also helping suppress weeds.
Charcoal is alkaline in nature. It serves as a good fertiliser for orchids. It nourishes and helps them grow, too.
Pieces of charcoal can also be placed inside tool boxes to keep the metal from oxidizing as they will absorb the moisture.
And last but not least, you can use them to make marks. Just like chalk will make white marks, charcoal will make black marks. Many people use them for drawing lines on the ground. Children use them for making hopscotch squares or other outdoor game templates on pavements, too. And the best thing about it is that they wash off easily as well.
Published in Dawn October 23rd, 2016