The scent of a culture
Their names are as quaint as the bottles they come in. Attars have a long history, dating back to the incomparable Mughal queen, Noorjehan. And if you don't want to buy an entire bottle, there are vendors willing to part with a dab or two for a small price.
The attars have evocative names like Jasmine, Jannat Ul Firdaus, and Kachi Kali, not to mention One Man Show, Cobra, and Royal Bullet. Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.
THE YOUNG man smiles. He is full of anticipation. He takes bath using his favourite soap, dons his best clothes, dabs his fragrant attar on his wrist and behind the ear, and steps into the beautiful night.
A tradition dating back to the Moghul era still wafts through the air in certain parts of the City.
And that is the use of attar. Attar, and its association with queen Noorjehan, has an air of romance surrounding it, and for many Bangaloreans it is a must before every prayer or any outing.
It is not the fragrance alone that is part of the tradition. The bottles that hold these secret scents and the method of their application go back many, many years.
One can see attar vendors near Russell Market, O.P.H. Road, and City Market proudly engaged in the trade for years, with their characteristic cases and bottles.
A peek into one of their quaint cases presents an unusual spectacle. Classic, tiny, old-fashioned attar bottles jostle for space with more recent fashion statements such as Charlie and Jovan, even if it is only meant to attract customers. Though some customers are diehard users of the traditional fragrance, they look suspiciously at the old bottles that contain the odoriferous potions. So the vendor, with the skill of a veteran lab technician, expertly pours out the humble contents into a snazzy Charlie bottle. The buyers go away satisfied over a good buy.
Though attars are sold by the bottle, some vendors also oblige by providing dabs from their stock at Rs. 2 to Rs. 5 a go. The vendors near mosques mainly belong to the second category. They drop the attar carefully onto a glass slide and with cotton swabs, apply it on the wrist, chest, and behind the ears of the customer.
The attars have evocative names such as Jannat Ul Firdaus, Rose, Kachi Kali, Shararat, Yasmeen, Royal Bullet, Cobra, Fons, Intimate, and the like.
Fridays and special occasions such as Ramzan are particularly good business days for these vendors.
Fifty-year-old Sardar, who has been selling attar near St. Mary's Basilica for the last eight years, stocks a farrago of scents which, he says, range from strong to subtle, depending on the customers' choice.
Extolling the virtues of his products, he tops it all off saying they make the wearer feel good.
Though he charges Rs. 2 to Rs 3 for a dab, Kachi Kali is pricier at Rs. 5 for a 3 ml swab. Shararat, however, is Sardar's favourite.
The last three years have been particularly dull, bemoans Sardar, who says he hardly earns Rs. 70 to Rs. 80 a day. He buys his stock from Kumbarpet, like most vendors, and spends anything between Rs. 300 and Rs. 400 on every visit to the market. To make ends meet, he also stocks finger rings priced between Rs. 5 and Rs. 6.
Firdaus, a 40-year-old vendor, stocks attars that are christened Jasmine, Magnet, Fancy, Bullet, One Man Show, Eternity, I Walk, and Poison, all of which he gets from Mumbai. Jasmine, Rose, Charlie, and Brut are particularly popular and he charges Rs. 10 for a small bottle.
He gets about 25 customers a day, both Muslims and Hindus. Firdaus also sells surma, which "is good for the eyes", and is priced between Rs. 5 and Rs. 10.
Sulaiman says he likes to apply attar before going to the mosque because it makes him feel fresh.
Noorullah, another regular, buys three varieties of the scents and stocks them at home to be used occasionally.
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