Zinda Tilismath: 100 years of ‘living magic’

Mallik Thatipalli | Updated on July 17, 2020

All-weather formula: Made with five herbal ingredients, the medicine has been used for decades to cure cough, cold, aches and indigestion

Zinda Tilismath, Hyderabad’s trusted Unani medicine, is also one of its biggest successes

*The story of Zinda Tilismath, a liquid herbal remedy, began 100 years ago, in the hands of Hakim Mohammed Moizuddin Farooqui

*Thousands of Hyderabadis have relied on the century-old herbal Unani potion to keep cough and cold, aches and pains, indigestion and infections at bay

* Covid-19 pandemic has boosted sales in the last three months

All her life, my grandmother followed a standard routine for two chronic problems that plagued her at periodic intervals: Consuming hot tea laced with eight drops of Zinda Tilismath to treat a cold and applying a cotton swab soaked with 12 drops of the same medicine over her gums to cure a toothache. Nothing else, according to her, was half as effective.

Like her, thousands of Hyderabadis have relied on the century-old herbal Unani potion to keep cough and cold, aches and pains, indigestion and infections at bay. From the erstwhile aristocrats of Hyderabad to film stars and politicians, it has remained the first line of defence against ailments for many.

The story of Zinda Tilismath, a liquid herbal remedy, began 100 years ago, in the hands of Hakim Mohammed Moizuddin Farooqui. The physician was trained in Unani medicine, which is said to have been derived from Byzantine Greece. This all-weather miracle brew transformed its owner from just another hakim in Hyderabad to the creator of one of the city’s signature success stories.

Farooqui’s grandson Imad, 52, currently a joint managing partner at the company, Karkhana Zinda Tilismath, credits his grandfather’s business acumen and marketing skills for the brand’s success. “He perfected the recipe over the course of many years by treating a diverse set of patients. Once he established the factory in 1920, he marketed it by painting its ad on the boulders on the Old Hyderabad-Mumbai highway (some of which still exist) and distributing pamphlets in crowded places such as bus and railway stations,” he tells BLink.

In the marketing blitzkrieg woven around Zinda Tilismath — which means ‘living magic’— the use of strategic imagery helped immensely. The adoption of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s cap (dastar) as the registered trademark struck a chord with Hyderabadis and the logo of an African warrior armed with a spear signified vitality and strength. A cavalry of African soldiers (mostly from Ethiopia), known as Siddhis, were the pride of the Nizam’s army and even deployed as his personal bodyguards. By aligning itself with the Siddhis, the potion propagated the lore of guaranteed good health and reliability. The fact that Farooqui himself travelled with a muscular Abyssinian guard-cum-assistant augured well for the optics around the brand.

What further worked in its favour were two factors: Affordability and functionality. The price — up from 60 paise in 1973 for a 10ml pack to ₹85 now — is still within the reach of the common man, thus ensuring steady sales. That it allows for both internal and external use has only helped the medicine’s popularity. Imad points out that it is even administered to newborn babies and pregnant women. Such is the brand’s soft power that the locality that houses its factory has been named Zinda Tilismath Nagar.

Ingredients and growth

The potion has been using five ingredients since inception — eucalyptus, camphor, menthol, thymol and alkanet root (also called ratanjyoth, it lends a dark brown colour to the medicine).

While the company filled up bottles manually till 1995, it eventually automated the process with imported machines. It now has its own unit to manufacture bottles. Over the years, the bottles have changed from glass flip-tops to plastic in the form of an eyedropper. Every change has been strictly monitored by its loyal clientèle.

Imad recalls with a laugh that when they created a mould for plastic bottles a couple of years ago, people started complaining that the quantity had reduced. “We realised that it was due to space between the top of the liquid and the bottom of the cap, which was now visible in the new shape of the bottle. We had to redesign the bottle to address this,” Imad says.

Hyderabad-based historian Sajjad Shahid points out that a bottle can be found in every Hyderabadi home, “It initially gained popularity as a cure for influenza and cholera, but people found it effective for numerous other ailments. I use it for sore throat/cough by applying a few drops in a sada paan.”

YS Rajasekhara Reddy, former Andhra Pradesh chief minister, touted it as a cure for swine flu when it ravaged the city in 2005. Imad says that the Covid-19 pandemic has boosted sales in the last three months. “Several symptoms of common cold and flu and Covid-19 are similar, so many people have Zinda Tilismath in their home remedy kits.”

With a turnover of over ₹30 crore and sales of over 10 million bottles in the last financial year, Zinda Tilismath is the crown jewel of the business, which also produces balm, toothpowder and lozenges for a sore throat. The company is now focussed on expanding its business to West Asia and the US, which have a large Indian diaspora. It is also in the process of tying up with major e-tailers to increase sales outside Hyderabad.

The magic looks poised for another century.

Mallik Thatipalli is a journalist based in Hyderabad

Published on July 17, 2020

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