In 1935, Vasundhara Bai, a housewife, would prepare a sumptuous lunch for her large family by dipping into her treasure trove of heavy kansa or bell metal plates and bowls, tin-lined copper pots, iron woks, copper tumblers and earthenware. While most of those heavy-duty utensils have since been retired by her great granddaughter Tara, if you look around her modern kitchen, you’ll still see a copper carafe with a pair of copper tumblers and a serving plate made of copper. “I wanted to add a bit of tradition to my home and life,” said Tara, who also inherited Vasundhara Bai’s kansa plate and bowl set – the only items left from her ancestral kitchen.
Despite the modern kitchen’s tendency to prefer ceramic, steel and plastic, a true testimony to the post-industrial era where things are all about fusing functionality with convenience, copper has found new fans across the world. American reality television star Kylie Jenner recently introduced a whole rage of copper cookware to her kitchen, while designer Tom Dixon, who often favours copper accents in interior design, introduced copper coffee sets and home accessories.
In India, some like Tara choose to bring copper back into their lives for tradition, others for health reasons and some are simply following trends. Even at high-end stores like Good Earth and online lifestyle brands like Vilaasita, copper is a much-loved metal.
“As ever in the design world, the move to copper has been trend driven, with fashion forecasts highlighting copper and brass accents a couple of years ago, especially with Tom Dixon’s lights – that has trickled down to other areas of one’s life,” said Valay Gada, a Delhi-based designer who heads Cobalt, a design studio which works with traditional crafts and materials.
Shwetal Bhatt, a designer from Bengaluru, has been working with copper for the past several years. “People who’ve either seen this metal in their grandparents’ homes or are drawn to a conscious way of living are the ones who often buy copper-ware,” she said.
The Ayurveda way
With conscious consumption becoming the season’s biggest fashion trend, people are turning to Ayurveda for an inner glow which matches their metallic accessories. Drinking copper-charged water, according to Dr Shashikant R Jirafe, an Ahmedabad-based Ayurvedic practitioner, can boost immunity.
As per a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition, if contaminated water is stored in copper pots for up to 16 hours, it gets charged with copper ions, which reduces harmful microbes. Research done by the University of South Carolina also shows that antimicrobial copper surfaces in intensive care units kill 97% of bacteria that can cause hospital-acquired infection.
“As long as the joint family system was strong in our country, there was a way for this knowledge to pass down to the newer generations,” said Dr Jirafe, adding that the dismissal of traditional knowledge as “old wives tales” was responsible for the loss of important information like this.
Apart from its anti-microbial properties, copper is also known for its cell-forming and anti-oxidant properties, and can fight free radicals. It has anti-inflammatory properties, and can alleviate arthritic and rheumatoid pain too. However, it is important to remember that one should not eat out of pure copper plates, as certain foods can react with the metal. “Make sure that your copper plates have been tinned,” advised Bhatt.
Working with copper
For years, with copper being valued by the kilo and plastic and bone china taking over people’s kitchens, it was difficult for copper craftsmen to make ends meet. “My children wanted to get office jobs instead of carrying on this traditional profession because of the money they could earn in other fields,” said Ganesh Bhau. His income, and fate, changed when he began collaborating with designers.
Individuals like Bhatt and Gada, and design ventures like Pune-based Coppre, are working with craftsmen across India to help revive an art form that lost its sheen. Even though a lot of work and time goes into every handmade copper piece, these individuals and companies are passionate about the revival. “There is a warmth to copper and its alloys that other materials do not possess,” said Gada, who has designed a chic jerry can, a set of tumblers as well as coasters and pie-chart snack plates for gifts in the festive season.
Underneath all that glitters
The lack of information about the advantages and drawbacks of copper nudged Bhatt to venture into teaching copper craft and hosting workshops, to bridge the “disconnect with this material”. Finding the right kind of market for copper is also difficult.
Sudakshina Banerjee, the head of marketing outreach at Coppre, said, “It can take two-three months to create each item and copper is an expensive metal.” Handmade copper products are more expensive than their machine-made counterparts or even kitchenware made out of other materials. “Not many can appreciate this process and why these products are priced a certain way,” added Banerjee.
If you’re planning to add copperware to your wellness routine, the Coppre team offers some tips on how to take care of your copper jugs, carafes and tumblers:
- Replace the water stored in your copper container every 12 hours.
- Water bearers should be washed daily with a soft cloth and a detergent or metal cleaning agent. Wipe dry immediately after washing to prevent the natural oxidation process of copper.
- Do not use your water carrier to store any liquid apart from water, as it is unsafe to expose copper to food acids.
- Never use abrasive cleaning pads to clean your copper ware.