Amidst the myriads of narrow lanes that make up Colaba, there exists one that is lined with attar houses, working very hard to change perceptions of tourists that only associate Bombay with the smell of dried fish. ‘Attar’ is the Persian word for perfume derived from its Arabic equivalent, ‘itr’. I drop by a few of these stores intrigued by the ornate vials and crystal bottles displayed in their show windows. All these tiny stores point me in the direction of the oldest attar house in the area. Tucked away in a rather odd mix of kebab joints, quaint cafes and cigarette shops is Mohd. Ayub & Co. that is home to all things fragrant.
This attar house is the coming together of science and poetry, where complicated formulae give birth to fragrances that become the essence of a person. Mohd. Ayub established the perfumery close to 40 years ago, but the journey to becoming one of the leading exporters of attar wasn’t one without a fair share of ups and downs. Like countless others, Ayub moved from a small town (Nagpur) to Mumbai with hopes of making it big. After dabbling with semi-precious stones, suffering major losses and selling mehendi on the very streets where his shop proudly stands today, Ayub started his tryst with the business of fragrances with a meagre sum of 10 rupees.
Like a kid in a candy store, it takes a while before you can tear your eyes away from what appears to be bottled gold. After gawking away to glory, you’re greeted by Mr. Ayub’s warm smile. “You can’t use your brain too much, you need to leave it to your instincts,” says Mr. Ayub as he carefully places tiny vials of oils and perfumes on the counter, getting ready to stir up a magical concoction. After trying and testing innumerable mukhallats — an urdu word used to refer to these fragrant blends — putting together different oils and perfumes to create something completely new and fabulous is like second nature to Mr. Ayub.
Once all the potions are laid out, it’s time for the sorcery to begin. With your wrist as his canvas, Mr. Ayub will dab a few fragrances to get an idea of your preferences and to see what the oils and perfumes smell like on you as “all fragrances smell different on different people depending on how they react with your natural oils.” Once you’ve narrowed down on two or three scents of your liking, Mr. Ayub mixes them in varied proportions till you’ve chosen a concoction that best suits your olfactory senses. “If people want, I can give them the respective proportions of the attars I’ve used and they can take it to any shop and get it made provided they have the same attars. There is no secret,” says Mr. Ayub.
Today, Mr. Ayub has come a long way from the 10 rupees he started his business with and is the proud owner of attar factories in Assam. When asked about what is it that drives him, his answer is pretty straightforward — “It’s my business.” However, it does become quite evident when his eyes light up while talking about his work that Mr. Ayub’s relationship with fragrances isn’t just limited to business. “According to me, fragrances, scents and aromas are like food for the soul. It’s not just about them smelling nice, they have medicinal benefits too. Lighting the right incense or wearing the right fragrance can lift your mood up like nothing else would,” says Mr. Ayub.
Apart from attars, the store also offers sukhad (dried wood that is soaked in perfumed oils, used for burning purposes), incense sticks and a variety of imported fragrances as well. The most fascinating thing however is the store’s famous Ahud, which is their signature oud oil blend. Oud is one of the most expensive oils in the world and apart from being used as a base for fragrances, it also has religious relevance and some medicinal properties. “The oud oil is very precious. Only family members, that is my son and I, are allowed to handle it,” says Mr. Ayub. Other interesting finds include the decades old camel skin bottles that are used to store unique fragrances like their Attar Shamama. Also, if travelling, the store offers wooden travel friendly packaging that ensures that your attar is transported safely.
Before I get up to leave, I ask Mr. Ayub one last question — “Why fragrances?” He responds without a second’s worth of thought — “Why do you feel hungry? Why do you breathe?”
The fragrances are priced at INR 500 onwards.
Address: Mohd. Ayub & Co., 4/14, Kamal Mansion Corner, Haji Niyaz Ahmed Azmi Marg, Colaba, Mumbai - 400005.
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