Walking through the streets near Charminar during Ramzan is a revelation. Numerous shops stand shoulder to shoulder, all decorated with serial bulbs that light up every evening as people break their day-long fast. Tucked away in a small corner near the monument are a couple of ittar shops, some which have been there since 1897. The strong fragrances and the shiny bottles neatly stacked inside the glass shelves beckon customers to the shops, which now look more like tiny curio shops. Some shops also have curious foreigners taking a whiff of the ittar from a dab of cotton.
At the Famous Perfumery Centre, an ittar shop located close to the first Kamaan at Charminar, Mohammad Adil, the third-generation owner sits on a takht with side pillows neatly placed beside him, asking customers to settle down comfortably. Established by his grandfather Mohammad Ali almost 50 years ago, the perfumery not just sells ittars and perfumes, but is a pioneer at blending fragrances. Bring a fragrance from any part of the world and the centre can recreate an almost accurate replica of the smell.
The perfumes come from all around the world. Not perfumes, Adil prefers to call all of them ittars. While they have natural fragrances coming from as far as Dubai and France, most of them are home-made. Large bottles of original fragrances adorn the shelves, from which customers can take a whiff of some of the rare ones. The ittars are then packed into smaller bottles and sold with a bit of cotton inside each packet.
“My grandfather had migrated from Lucknow to Hyderabad during the Nizam’s rule. It was common during the time to come to the Hyderabad state as it was at its pinnacle of prosperity. Most of our original fragrances still come from Lucknow, Rajasthan, and many are made here in our factory at Charminar,” Adil says.
As schools are shut and the mood for Ramzan has set in, the shop is abuzz with the kids from the family, and Akreem, a Class 9 student, is excited to show customers the different fragrances in the shop. He is busy explaining to a customer the right way to roll ittar on one’s clothes.
“You shouldn’t roll it directly on your dress. You can pour a few drops on a bit of cotton and apply it over your clothes. Or the most apt way is to apply it on your fingertips, rub both your palms together and then rub your palms over your clothes. The fragrance remains for long hours and that’s the only reason people still prefer ittars over perfumes that contain alcohol,” Akreem claims.
While ittar shops in Hyderabad have now become a rarity and the business is supposedly dwindling in popularity, Akreem differs and says ittars still have their niche buyers.
“Kisne bola ittar nhi bikta? (Who said ittars are not in demand anymore?) We still have people, both young and old alike, coming in requesting for different blends. We have over 56 varieties of ittar in the shop. After the customer asks for a particular fragrance, we make them sniff a couple of varieties until they identify the right smell. Then it takes only a few minutes to blend the fragrances and cap the ittar in these tiny bottles. We also have similar fragrances in perfumes, which mostly gets sold among the young people who visit the shop,” Akreem explains.
Ittars from the shop are sold not only locally but around entire Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. They also have Arabs visiting the shop and asking for ‘Saut-ul-Arab’, a woody fragrance that is a favourite among them.
“Saut is one of the most costly ittars available in the shop. But the fragrance is not preferred by locals. It’s quite strong and, honestly speaking, even if given for free many wouldn’t take it,” Akreem laughs, adding, “Ittars are perfumes without alcohol and that’s important for Muslims. People from other religions use it for auspicious occasions as well.”
Some of the scents that have been blended with an Arabic texture include names like Danish, Marwan, Crystal, Simra, Jannet Ul Firdous, Motia, Arsh, Faraz and Mushk. Out of these, Marwan, Crystal and Simra are the bestselling ones, Akreem says. They also have Kashish, an ittar made from a variety of flowers. This is one scent that keeps bringing people back to Famous Perfumery Centre.
But what has made the perfumery centre a hit among consumers is that the shop lets you customise your own perfume. If you think a dash of rose fragrance would make the perfume better, you have a dozen fragrances awaiting a whiff. And not just customising, if you want to recreate your favourite perfume, you can bring it to the store and they can make a 90% accurate replica of the perfume.
“Can you make a replica of Davidoff?”
“That’s easy. But it’s rarely that people bring perfumes to replicate. It’s ittars that are worth the job and never has our shop turned anyone away emptyhanded,” Adil says proudly.