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A shisha is simply a waterpipe instrument used to smoke flavoured tobacco, originally called Mu’assel. The smoke is predominantly channelled through a water basin to the pipe where it’s then inhaled by the user.
Shisha is also called hookah or narghile (by the Persians) or uqqa (by the Arabs). In the West, we call it shisha as this ancient smoking experience revived in the 1990’s and became commonplace among Western youths. All the names used to call ‘shisha’ refer to the original methods of building the water basin bit of the water pipe.
The origin of shisha has not been clearly traced till date. Several nations, including Egypt, Iran, Turkey, India, Syria and Persia claim to be the forefather of the hookah. It is argued that the hookah idea was created and the countries made an appearance based on the notion and created the independent hookahs into what we currently generally consider as the standard form of the hookah. Majority of the pipes found in bars today are still manufactured in the countries mentioned above.
Though these nations claim to have initiated the hookah pipes, the general accord is that it originated in the North West of India about 6 centuries ago. Historical stories reveal that smoking tobacco was a norm in India back then, prompting several health problems and that a certain physician called Hakim Abdul-Fath Gilani invented the shisha in a bid to cut down on the amount of tobacco inhaled via the water present in the water basin at the base of the hookah. Whether it’s an ancient myth or not makes little or no difference as shisha smoking is increasingly growing around the globe.
The original hookah is thus set to have originated in India as an archaic waterpipe in the form of a coconut shell. Because tobacco smoking was a big thing back then, it spread to Iran and other Arab states. However, it was in Turkey where the hookah was revolutionised into the form we have today. As a matter of fact, hookah was an integral part of coffee shops.
History tells us that hookah smokers were quite picky about the choice of tobacco. The majority of hookah smokers preferred dark tobacco imported from Iran mainly because it was deemed to be a cleaner and healthier type. Oak charcoal was traditionally placed on top of the hookah for steam and smokers would add pomegranate juice or rose oil to their water to enhance the flavour.
Interestingly, the hookah was very trendy especially in the midst of ladies of the 1880’s and 1910’s. To have been the talk of the town, you had to be snapped with a hookah or present for daytime hookah gatherings. It’s quite unfortunate that this trend of the past was and has been almost completely wiped out due to the emergence of cigarettes, though a few of us still stop by local lounges for an hour or two of hookah.
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