India Interior

Scenting a way ahead

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on February 12, 2016

New opportunities For the shopowners in Kannauj, even though thecrackdown on the gutka industry hit them hard, new products like scentedcandles and edible essences for cooking, give hope VIJAY KUTTY

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A whiff of change is evident in Kannauj, lifting the fading fragrance of the town by the Ganga



“Even the drains of this town are scented,” says perfumer Syed Mohammad Daud, paying eloquent homage to Kannuaj, the attar capital of India. But when you enter this town by the Ganga, it looks like any other dusty outpost in Uttar Pradesh (UP) – crowded and chaotic.

For a moment, you might be forgiven to think it is India’s potato capital as the town is edged by dozens of cold storage units, where truckloads of the tuber from nearby farms are arriving. On the streets, vendors sell jacket potatoes baked desi style in a bed of sand and charcoal served with mint chutney. It’s only as you enter the old town through a regal doorway and navigate the narrow by lanes, that the whiff of perfumes wafts through.

Not so rosy

Lines of shops with fascinating goblets, beakers and camel skin perfume bottles in their windows beguile you to enter. As Daud whips out tiny vials of attar, the natural perfumed oil that is prepared from flower and natural extracts, the tale he tells, however, is far from rosy.

With raw material costs getting exorbitant, the perfumers are having a hard time making and selling traditional favourites. Sandalwood oil, the base for many of the attars today costs ₹1.5 lakh for a kg.

Even flowers are getting expensive as cultivation and labour costs rise. The exotic Ruh Gulab, for instance, costs ₹10,000 for 10 gm. “We need 800 kg of roses to prepare 8 gm of perfume,” says Doud.

As a result, many of the small manufacturers have taken to using liquid paraffin as base for their attars rather than sandalwood or floral oils. Alcohol based scents are flooding the town. At many of the shops you can see rip offs of fancy imported perfume brands.

But walk into the sprawling Gauri Sugandh showroom and you can see how the fragrances industry has found a new market.

Here displayed prominently are home fragrance kits – fancy diffuser jets with aromatic oils - jostling with the traditional attars. Vijay Tewari, the owner of Gauri Sugandh, admits that as one door starts closing – the crackdown on the gutka industry has hit the fragrance industry here hard - another seems to be opening up. Scented candles, edible essences for cooking are all promising opportunities.

When Chanel meets Ruh Gulab

The perfume town may also get a new lease of life thanks to its new French connection.

Last summer the UP Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav made a much publicised visit to French town Grasse, home of perfumes like Chanel No5.

He announced a twin city project to revive the attar industry in Kannauj. As part of this initiative, a perfume park and a perfume museum are going to be set up in Kannauj, where land has been acquired. The tie-up with Grasse will also help Kannauj’s perfumers learn the art of branding. It helps that in 2013, the town applied for and got Geographical Indication tag for its perfumes.

Meanwhile, the scene for the potato business – which some of the perfume manufacturers diversified into - is also looking up with the promise of the state’s first big kisan mandi, and a potato-based vodka plant to come up in the city.

The mover and shaker behind this is the Chief Minister’s wife, Dimple Yadav, who represents Kannauj in the Lok Sabha. The town is abuzz with speculations that Akhilesh Yadav will contest the 2017 UP assembly elections from a constituency here.

But the biggest development here is the ambitious 302 km-long six-lane green field expressway - said to be India's longest state e-way - connecting Agra to Lucknow that will pass through the town.

With this, the perfumers scent a road to progress for Kannauj.

Published on February 12, 2016
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