The show must go on

Sheetal vyas | Updated on April 18, 2014 Published on January 31, 2014

A red-carpet affair The knotted piles brought all the way from Kashmir, their histories interwoven with thatof the 74-year-old Hyderabadi Numaish K Ramesh Babu

Well done Gravity defying acrobatics in the Maut ka Kuan or Well of Death.


Fruits of their labour Kashmiri traders continueto peddle dry fruits and nuts each year G Ramakrishna

The Hyderabadi Numaish has been bringing Kashmir to the Deccan since 1938

The social calendar for the mild Hyderabadi winter follows pretty much the same template as most other cities in India — a sudden upsurge of concerts, theatre, literary fests and all things cultural. And other cities must have their share of consumer exhibitions too but there is something very special about the one that is held here every year. The original name was the Numaish Masnuaat-e-Mulki but it is more simply, the Numaish. Started in 1938 by the Osmania Graduates Association, it is something of an institution. A dearly loved one. Traditionally held during the first 45 days of the year, the exhibition draws Hyderabadis by the lakhs, many of whom save up for months for this grand splurge: chikan work from Lucknow, embroidered woollens and dry fruits from Kashmir, bedspreads from Haryana, razais from Jaipur, juttis from Punjab and Rajasthan — and of course, every kind of street food and carnival joyrides that have enthusiasts screaming in equal measures of fright and glee.

In the beginning, it was a small affair. This year, in its 74th edition, close to 2,500 stalls are displaying their wares. It’s universally acknowledged that it’s difficult to do justice to this gigantic fair in fewer than three visits. The Exhibition Society keeps photographs and a trace of the history of this annual event. But to really know what the Numaish was like decades ago, you must speak to the second- and third-generation merchants here. Because a handful of stalls have links that go back as long as the fair itself. “My father PN Kaul was the first Kashmiri to have a stall in this exhibition in 1938,” Surinder Kaul tells me. This was an association that opened up a trade route, almost. Word spread, connections were forged and today some 350 stalls in the Numaish are taken by traders from Kashmir — and they all take much pride and delight in the participation. Rayees Makhdoomi, who brings truckloads of quality dry fruit, honey and saffron to be sold here every year, says it worked out just fine: “My father Makhdoom didn’t just bring his wares, he always brought down his entire family. The snow on our mountains meant that we couldn’t move about freely in the Kashmir valley, so we used to come here instead. It was like a month-long vacation.”

They remember the time when Numaish was held in Public Gardens for 10 days. Soon, the space was found wanting and the Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan allotted the ‘Exhibition Grounds’ for the purpose. “We had dusty pathways, temporary structures for the stalls back then,” Makhdoomi reminisces. “I was a child of 3 or 4 when I started coming here. Now we stay in hotels nearby, but then, this was our shop, our home. We lived here, cooked here, prayed here.” The Kashmiri traders began to see Hyderabad as a home away from home. The Kaul family set up a permanent branch of their store Canaud House in the Abids area and Rayees Makhdoom declares this is the only exhibition he comes to all year. “The Hyderabadi people are wonderful,” he says, “woh logon mein farq nahin karte (they don’t discriminate between people).”

There are other associations that go that far back as well. I was led by my guide into the very chaotic depths of the fair’s ‘amusement corner’. Here, over the din of loudspeakers, carnival music and squealing youngsters, and in the light of psychedelic colours emanating from various sources, I was introduced to Mohammed Zaker Bakhri, whose great-grandfather, Chanda Saheb, was the man in charge of the ‘amusements’ in the early years. “My great-grandfather once happened to attend an auction where someone was selling this chakkar ka jhoola,” Bakhri tells me, “On an impulse, he bought it for a sum of ₹78. It lay there for a couple of years — he didn’t know what to do with it — but then the Numaish was held, and he brought it here on bullock carts and set it up.” The family has since occupied this corner of the fair. There are 16 big rides now and about 25 smaller counters that pull in massive crowds each day. “We go to many other fairs, it’s a circuit across the State, but being associated with the Numaish is a matter of sentiment as well as prestige,” says Bakhri.

No doubt I was a bit jaded on the idea of national integration, but I was surprised to hear the phrase ‘mini India’ repeated over and over again. “We’re all brothers here,” Kaul says earnestly, “they come from UP, Haryana... all over the country, and we’re here as brothers.” Makhdoomi says, “I’d be doing my namaz on this side of the partition, and my neighbour, my Hindu brother, would be doing his prayers on the other side. Can you imagine something like that?”

(Sheetal vyas is a Hyderabad-based writer.)

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Published on January 31, 2014
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