The burqa has many avatars, finds Vishnupriya Bhandaram as she goes hunting in the busy markets near Charminar

The autorickshaw driver shakes his head and says he won’t inch a foot beyond Madina. No amount of nudging can change his mind, not even an extra twenty on the meter fare. “It’s too crowded. If I take you there, I’ll be stuck for hours,” he says and scoots off the minute he’s handed over the money. Pathergatti and Shahran markets in the Old City are busier than usual during the month of Ramzan. The shops are open all day and all night. As you begin to walk, you feel a thousand faces coming at you. “This is no joke, sau mein do (two for hundred),” shouts a vendor. Another man under a colourful umbrella yells at intervals, “Sab milega, aao aao. Masakalli, Anarkali, Chidiya (Come come, you’ll get them all).” Upon further inspection you realise that Masakalli, Anarkali and Chidiya are the kinds of frocks for babies — shiny, glittery and colourful. As you make your way through the streets, to your left, you can spot numerous shops selling burqas. Mohammed Arfath of H. M. Creations says that over the past six years, exclusive burqa retailing outlets have cropped up. As women pass by, the store owners and salesmen call out to them, “Naya lelo (buy a new one), just Rs. 500.” Arfath however adds that this isn’t the season for abayas, they will catch up once Ramzan is over and the wedding season picks up. “Most women buy burqas and abayas during weddings. It’s the ideal gift item,” he adds.

With an assortment of abayas and head scarfs in place at H.M. Collections, you can see the mannequins decked up in burqas with stones, embroidery and other variations. Some stores even contrast the abaya with colourful head scarves. Arfath brings out his latest and fast selling collection and says that the most popular one this year is the Manto burqa. It looks like a cloak and has a belt around the waist. The best part about the Manto burqa, says Arfath is that it isn’t limited by the colour black and he pulls out purple, green, brown and red coloured versions of the abaya. “These are mostly bought by college girls. There is another style which is gaining popularity in these kind of the burqas are the knee-length burqas. You can just team those up with leggings,” he says.

The Manto burqa sells for as low as Rs. 300. Irani style burqas, fitted burqas and those with stones, sequins and embroidery have gained popularity. You can find an array of abayas with stone-work. Mohammed Kadeer of Aisha Collections says that the stone-work burqas have overtaken embroidery and these are selling like hot cakes. The price increases for imported materials like Al Nida, Firdaus, Internet and Zubeidaa. There is more demand for imported material because it lasts longer. Mohammed Ali of M.A. Zabi fashions says, “Karigaran banate banate thak jaarein, utna demand hai (the artisans are getting tired because there are orders in excess),” He says that most young girls want the tight fitting burqas with choodi folding around the wrists. Because of this demand, he confesses to making a profit of Rs. 500 on every burqa he sells. While there are many outlets ready to offer custom made abayas and burqas, store owners say that people prefer ready-mades. When asked about how they keep the fashion from fading, Mohammed Ali says that they try to replicate designs from abroad. “We do imitations of designer burqas that you get in Dubai,” he says. He adds that the Nehru collar burqa that was popular many years ago, might also make a comeback by the end of this year.

Khimar – triangular or circular head-scarf

Niqab – facial veil

Abaya – cloak over garment which covers body

Burqa – a garment that covers body from head to toes