Fragrance of yesteryear

DISTILLED TO PLEASE: `Attar,' the perfume of kings and queens. — Photos: Mohd Yousuf  

IT IS the essence of a bygone era that emanates from the narrow lanes and narrower by-lanes. Preserved in these streetsonce frequented by the royalty, is the fragrance of attar - - the perfumes of kings and queens, which hark back the fragrant era of tammadun and tehzeeb.

Attar - - the Urdu transcript of which means "divine fragrance", has been able to resist the onslaught of time and taste. The celestial cologne has, so long, maintained its antiquated existence in the erstwhile Nizam's state, although the availability is now restricted only to a handful of shops in the Old City precincts. "It is either Calvin Klein, Jovan Musk or other imported perfume brands that have overrun us and our business, waning away our clientele ," laments Mohammed Hameed, who runs one of the oldest and largest attar outlets in the city - Hameed and Co. Perfumers, at Mallepally, near Jama Masjid.

Recounting the erstwhile flourish of the attar market, Hameed who is the third generation to inherit the business started by his ancestors, says, "previously, we used to have at least a hundred people coming and checking out the range of the most exotic and exquisite perfumes we had, daily. But now, we have hardly a dozen people to try out our range, even though prices have been drastically reduced." Perhaps, taking a cue from this, many prosperous attarwallahs foreseeing the sweep of modernity have traded places for other businesses.

"For good," says 52-year old Idris Ali, whose forefathers were master attar makers during the Nizam's rule. Idris has now started his own business of leather goods, near Mozamjahi market. "Of course, it makes me sad to leave my family business. But then, there was no other way I could have supported my family," he regrets.

Others like sexagenarian Taher Ali and 47-year-old Amjad Baig, have however, tenaciously hung on to their family trade of manufacture and selling indigenous perfumes because of sentiment .

DAB IT ON: There are still a few people who go for the exotic scent.

DAB IT ON: There are still a few people who go for the exotic scent.  

"The domestic clientele of attar has undoubtedly waned, so our main source of income generation is from overseas, where we export our items. Specially in the Gulf and the Middle-East, there is still a lot of demand and takers are aplenty," explains Amjad Baig.

Bottled in attractive cut glasses of various shapes and sizes , a dash of Anais Anais or musk is added to the attar to give it an international touch to lure more takers abroad, Taher Ali informs. He rues the feelings of most, in the present generation, who think attar to be an outdated stuff. "It's a pity that the youth do not pride their heritage and history any more," Ali says.

He adds that according to the holy Quran, Muslims cannot use any other perfumes but attar because of the alcoholic content in most of them, which is a religious prohibition.

"Who would like to labelled as out-fashioned by using attar these days? I would rather use an expensive Givenchy or a moderately priced Axe to be in tune with the times," gushes CIEFL student Farzana Begum. In total contrast, OU student Atiya - - an animal freak, says, "I am seriously contemplating to switch over to attar from the usual deodorants and perfumes as a protest, for they are tested on animals."

The fact is that the enticing fragrance of yesteryear is slowly but surely being pushed into oblivion. "The loss will mean parting with our own heritage. What is more distressing is that nothing can be done to undo the wane of attar's popularity. Alas! Very soon the tehzeeb, adab and shauq will be lost," attarwallah Hameed concludes.