Numaish, now an integral facet of Hyderabad, began in 1938 with a capital of Rs. 2.50.

The city’s favourite annual carnival, Numaish, got off to its usual sluggish start last week. Numaish addicts know that the industrial exhibition wears its brightest colours only close to Sankranti. The early birds are the rows of stalls from Kashmir and Lucknow, hoping to cash in on early visitors. Many other stall owners are still dusting old carpets, getting their skeletal wooden framework in place and sorting out their stock. “This year’s exhibition will have 2500 stalls,” says Ashwin Margam, honorary secretary, Exhibition Society. The All India Industrial Exhibition (AIIE), as the Numaish is officially known, is the city’s biggest carnival that draws visitors from all over the city with its good bargains, great food and memorable amusement rides.

When it began in October 1938, it was much smaller, hosting around 100 stalls at Public Gardens. A group of likeminded people of Osmania Graduates Association (OGA) were brainstorming on how to raise funds to conduct an Economic Survey of the State. Mahmood Ali, then a lecturer at City College, came up with the idea of utilising stalls that were erected in Public Gardens in connection with the Nizam’s Silver Jubilee Numaish. The idea was approved by the then Prime Minister of Hyderabad, Sir Akbar Hydari, and the exhibition was organised with a capital of two and a half rupees. The OGA members sought more funds from individuals and organisations for the exhibition. Some help came through the Municipal Commissioner of Hyderabad, Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung Bahadur, who ensured that the municipal staff helped in sanitation and cleaning up of the premises.

According to data available from Exhibition Guide 1941-42, the first exhibition in 1938 was held for 10 days and drew nearly 50,000 visitors. Products worth more than a lakh of rupees were sold and the newly-formed Exhibition Committee earned a net margin of Rs. 4000. In its consecutive years, the exhibition saw an exponential growth in the number of stalls, visitors and sales. In 1939, there were 150 stalls and the number swelled to 250 in 1940.

Some of the profits earned by the Exhibition Committee went into educational institutions. The Committee became a registered body under the Companies Act in 1956 as Exhibition Society. Today, the Exhibition Society supports 18 educational institutions throughout the State.

As Numaish grew in popularity, drawing more visitors, Public Gardens seemed a small venue with limited space to host additional stalls. It moved to the 32-acre ground in Nampally in 1946. The annual festival saw a break in 1947 and 48, and bounced back with vigour in 1949, with more stalls and was rechristened the AIIE, and was inaugurated by C. Rajagopalachari.

For decades, the industrial exhibition was the only place in the city where one could strike a good bargain on anything from garments to household appliances. Curiously, the opening up of retail sector and the umpteen state-level and national-level exhibitions organised by government and private bodies hasn’t robbed Numaish of its sheen, as yet.