Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The New Scent of Attar

Your dressing table and powder room might flaunt the best of perfumes — Nina Ricci, Carolina Herrera 212, Davidoff Coolwater or even Chanel. It's a sign of affluence, a mark of vanity. And ladies don't mind spending a bomb on these scents. But if you thought spending big bucks on perfumes invariably lands you in the 'it' league, you are wrong. For the poorer cousin of perfumes, the age-old attar, is finding favour with ladies who want to go easy on their purses, yet smell like a million bucks. For now, the attar is bottled with the goodness of the best international brands (read: replicated)! You've heard it right — the Moazzam Jahi Market and lanes of Charminar are filled with tiny bottles containing scents with a modern twist that smell almost like the original! And the clincher? Well, they're priced very modestly and are skin friendly. 

Message in a bottle 

In a city like Hyderabad filled with myriad smells, the humble attar is undergoing a reinvention of sorts. Gone are the days of loud smells like jasmine and rose. Now, the same tiny bottles contain fragrances with modern and contemporary smells like lime blossoms, mint, and even musk. The notes are toned down, and when applied, gives off a mild pleasant scent. And that's how city youngsters are re-discovering the attar's new avatars. The attar version of Burberry, 212, Davidoff and Gucci come packed in tiny glass bottles that can fit in your palms and leaves its fragrance for six to eight hours. Sameerah Ajani, head of marketing and communication at a luxury car company swears by the attar version of international perfume brands. "I often get my perfumes from abroad. Once I'd gone to the Old City and chanced upon this tiny bottle of attar that had a mild aquatic smell. I bought it out of curiosity and there it was — a complete knock-off of Davidoff Coolwater! The small label pasted on the bottle said so too. That's when I got hooked to these 'modern' attars. No one will know I'm spending just Rs 150 for a bottle of fragrance," she says. 

Fragrances as cultural choice 

According to legend, Empress Noorjahan was the first lady in India to discover the Rooh-E-Gulaab — the attar made of rose petals. The empress who bathed in water filled with freshly plucked rose petals, once chanced up tiny droplets of oil floating on the water. It was nothing but the essence of rose. And upon her demand, the plant was sourced from central Asia to producer more attar. As history is witness, women are the biggest consumers of perfumes and Indian notes like khas, kewra, rose, jasmime etc., are a big hit with them. And now that the attar is re-inventing itself, the consumer base too has seen an increase. With its all-natural extract, the attar today is preferred by many who want to shun the chemical formulae. 

Manisha Chanda, an executive with an MNC admits to using different types of attar. "I have half of a dozen attars in my make-up kit. They last for a long time. I can carry them in my purse and since I have sensitive skin, these don't cause any allergy as they are made of natural essence. My favourite attar is the replica of the popular perfumes, Poison and 212," she says. 

The merchants of fragrance 

At the Moazzam Jahi market there are rows of attar merchants. Many of them are in this business for three or four generations, and have adopted the changing times. SN Arif Ali, one such merchant near MJ Market clock tower, says, "Three generations of our family has been in this business. Earlier, people used to prefer smells like khas, gulab and jasmine. But now times have changed. Young women are our main customers. They prefer light perfumes. We have our own lab where we match the scent of an international brand with the attar that we are making. It's a long process. We make attars that smell exactly like these perfumes. The only difference is that they are making perfumes and we are bottling attars." 

And these attars come for a price as low as Rs 200 and depending on the concentration of the oil, the price can go up to Rs 500. Amjad Ali another attar merchant from Charminar area informs, "These attars last up to five hours. The ones with high concentration can last even for three days! Some of us make the attars if we have the resources. Otherwise our main supplies come from Kannauj." 

The culture in Telangana dictates every bridal trousseau must have a bottle of attar in it, as it signifies the 'spreading' of happiness. And for the modern Telangana bride, no smell can be more appealing than the age-old attar, bottled with the fragrance of contemporary smells.

[ Published in TOI Hyderabad.]

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