The hammaam was made of either copper or brass. In most of our relatives’ homes I remember seeing copper ones, there were a few brass ones. There were a couple of different styles but the way they worked was the same. There were basically two cylinders, one inside the other. The inner one was usually made of iron, it was about four or five inches in diameter and about four inches longer than the outer cylinder, which was about twelve to fifteen inches in diameter. The inner tube had no cover. The outer cylinder had a lid. The bottom of the inner tube had a grate. You filled the outer cylinder with water, the inner one with either firewood or charcoal. You light the fire from the bottom after stuffing it with a few crumpled newspapers, similar to the way we light the charcoal chimney here that we use to start the grill.
Every morning it was the duty of one of the family members to light the hammaam. It took about twenty to twenty five minutes for the water to boil. Towards the bottom of the outer cylinder that stored the water was a faucet, to get the hot water. Everyone got to take a bucket of hot water and add whatever amount of cold water they liked to take a bath with. As soon as you got a bucket out you had to add a bucket of tap water to the hammaam. This ensured that the whole family got hot water.
Once everyone was done bathing, they used the rest of the hot water to do the dishes and laundry and then emptied the whole contraption out. It was washed and shined. The ashes were cooled and used to scrub the oily dishes, the fire was put out using water, the remaining charcoal and wood were cooled and dried for the next day.
I have some fun memories of this contraption. During holidays we stayed at different cousins’ homes and everyone wanted to shower the last because they got all the hot water they wanted. We would try to cheat in all the different ways we were trying to be ‘fair ‘. Like drawing the shortest stick, or the first one to finish eating dinner or something just as crazy was used to decide who would get the last shower. I remember breaking my stick to have the shorter one or saying I was done eating by stuffing my mouth with whatever I could in one bite and then looking for snacks an hour later!
When we got found out we would all get into trouble! Most of the time the boys didn’t care, it was all of us girls who wanted the extra hot water. By the time I was about twelve, everyone had more or less transitioned to the electric hot water heaters.
I remember seeing the hammaams in Begum Bazaar with the really large pots and pans. I wonder if these are sold still and if they serve a purpose.