It was a physician, either Persian or Indian (depending on who tells the tale!) who, in 1588 first passed tobacco smoke through a small bowl of water to purify and cool it, and thus inventing the hookah. Water-pipe, hubble-bubble, and narghile (coconut) are among the many other names that exist for this device, all depending entirely on locality.
Today’s common usage of the Indian word hookah is a result of the British Raj presence in India from 1858 to 1947, where a large number of expatriate Britons first sampled the water-pipe.
The patent depicted in our Hookah design, chosen for its elegant and artistic drawing, was first granted to Mr. Beshara Ganim, “a subject of the Sultan of Turkey, residing in the city, county, and State of New York” in 1903. Certainly many other hookah devices had been conjured up in the preceding 400 or so years that the pipes had been in use. Even Mr. Ganim acknowledged in his patent claim that he was “well aware that ordinary smoking pipes have been made with detachable parts.” However, Mr. Ganim’s device was special because of his specific construction idea, which made several elements and parts of the pipe detachable and, as claimed in the patent application, “readily removed to be cleaned or duplicated.” This method avoided “the disadvantages of the pipes now in use, in which all the several elements are made integral by brazing or soldering.” Perhaps only a small change and from our perspective today, an obvious one but, for the user, the ability to easily clean the separated elements of one’s pipe would have been a welcomed new convenience.
Contrary to popular Western impression, the hookah is primarily used not for smoking hashish or other illicit substances, but for water-cooled, flavored tobacco called shisha. A multitude of brands and flavors of tobacco are available for every palate. Tobacco experts and connoisseurs are as discerning as the more widely-known wine enthusiasts among us.
The relatively recent Western stereotype of hookahs and drug-induced highs seems to have originated with a 60s drug culture referencing the Caterpillar’s use of a hookah in Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland:
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
“Who are You?” said the Caterpillar.
However, scholarly analysis reveals Carroll’s inclination to poke fun at all aspects of society, and during the Victorian era in which he lived and without drug laws as we know them today, it was not uncommon to experience the effect of being “high”—the implied state of the Caterpillar.
No matter the substance smoked, the hookah, with its artful curves, conveniently removable parts, and water-cooled comfort seems here to stay.