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Scent of the old world

Mohamed Faizal is proud of his shop for it stocks the largest collection of attar, those heavenly-smelling essential oils packed in bottles, in the city. The family-owned Jamal Kazura Aromatics, situated on the busy LB Road in Adyar since 1989, manufactures these traditional perfumes in their own factory in Singapore.

Sometimes customers walk in looking for regular alcohol-based perfumes, see the array of beautifully crafted mini-amphoras, and after a gentle dab become instant converts to natural fragrances. Perfume preferences give insights into who you are, says Faizal. People are willing to pay big money for synthetic perfumes, he rues, simply because you can spray them. “But you could be allergic to alcohol,” he warns, “and the spray could also get into your eyes.”

His merchandise in designer bottles contains all things natural, he insists. They are blends of fragrant extracts from flowers, fruits, leaves, bark and herbs. “We have been in this business since 1933, our fragrances spread from the Gulf to Japanese islands.”

His invitation to test them out comes soon enough. He dabs the back of my hands with a variety of fragrances, and smiles: “What do you get?” As the heady aromas hit my brain, I rattle off: jasmine, rose, vetiver, marukozhundu, thazhambu, manoranjitham, strawberry, rosemary, peppermint, sandalwood, orange, lemon… all natural, he says, and asks me to test a special one. I smell watermelon, but amazingly, it changes to cucumber. “Secret,” he laughs. I also notice the “oil” is non-sticky. Prices range from Rs. 250/8ml – Rs.500/12ml, the most expensive being agarwood at Rs. 9000/6ml.

Attar has a fragrant history. Ancient Indians loved perfumes and dabbed them on during religious ceremonies and social functions till it became an everyday affair. Plant-oil perfumes were used in cosmetics, as beauty aids, in rituals and to treat diseases. Medicated oils were prescribed for massage, for skin ailments or to just to keep the skin smooth and healthy.

Sadly, the painstaking, centuries-old process of making oil-based attars is slowly disappearing in India and is being replaced by the cheaper production methods of commercial brands. But traditional perfumers hope customers do not lose their nose for these unique scents.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 2:29:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/scent-of-the-old-world/article6012178.ece

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