Fireplaces, once a winter “hot spot”, have been reduced to mere relics of the British Raj in ministerial bungalows in the state capital.
Modern appliances like heaters and blowers have replaced the once indispensable way to beat the chill. Opinions about the utility of fireplaces, sealed off after Independence, however, differ.
The fireplace in the drawing room at 15, Kautilya Marg, where animal and fish resources minister Giriraj Singh presently resides, only enhances the room decor.
Singh told The Telegraph: “Fireplace was an object of luxury though it gave a different feeling and ambience to bungalows. I have no idea when the last time the fireplace was used in this house. During winters, I use blankets and bonfires to keep warm now.”
Offering a different take, Patna-based architect and former chairman of Indian Institute of Architects, Bihar and Jharkhand chapter, Chandra Shekhar Sinha said: “When the fireplaces were constructed, there was no electricity and wood was cheaper. Smoke was one of the prime reasons that led to the sealing off of fireplaces. Why would anybody use a fireplace if the purpose is fulfiled by cheaper and easier means?”
In big bungalows, fireplaces used to provide central heating.
Water resources minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary had a different view on the topic. “Use of fireplaces was discontinued after Independence. New-age appliances are cost-effective and quality wood is scarce. People have completely forgotten about their use,” said Chaudhary at his sprawling bungalow at 3, Desh Ratna Marg.
He added: “The fireplace in my bungalow is no more in use. I prefer using blower or room heater. Using a fireplace requires a lot of work such as fetching a special kind of wood and clearing up ashes from the grate.” Road construction department minister Nand Kishore Yadav’s bungalow at 2, Strand Road, too, had a fireplace but was found sealed.
The minister believes that he would have given a thought about using the fireplace if it had not been blocked. “It is true that I would surely have thought of using the fireplace had it been in use. However, in the absence of the fireplace, I am happy with the blower and the room heater,” said Yadav.
Former chief secretary V.S. Dubey said: “Earlier, there was no other option to heat up the room except using fireplaces in winters. They were a symbol of leisure and pleasure. People used to sit around fireplaces, chat and read books among other activities. To use a fireplace, one needs special wood (jalawan), charcoal and kerosene (see chart). If the wood is not of proper shape and size, it will not burn properly. With the advent of new electrical devices, who would make so much of an effort. The practice was discontinued when I was sub-divisional officer in the late 1960s.”
RJD chief Lalu Prasad still uses a bonfire to beat the chill.