Attar town waits for French push

Crisis stares at perfume-making industry

Attar town waits for French push
The Uttar Pradesh  govt is taking measures to bail out attar makers

Replica of two musk deer greet a visitor to the house cum factory of Triloki Nath Tandon, a leading manufacturer of “attars” (perfume) in Kannauj, one of the oldest natural perfume-making centres in the country.

“The skins of the musk deer are original,” points out Tandon, whose forefathers had started the perfume factory in 1870, when asked about them.  

The musk deer are no showpiece. They symbolise the once thriving perfume industry in this historical town, which derives its name from “kanyakubja”, according to the Hindu epic “Valmiki Ramayana”.

“Kannauj ki galiyon mein attar mahakta hai” (there is fragrance of perfume in the drains in Kannauj), remarked Amit Mishra, a resident of the town, as he pointed towards number of shops selling different types of perfumes in one of the crowded and narrow streets.

The name of Kannauj is essentially associated with natural “attars” (perfumes) and the town had gained prominence as a perfume-producing centre during the Mughal period. The local historians say that the Mughal queen Noorjahan had discovered the process of preparation of “attars” from roses.

The perfume selling shops, however, hide the bitter truth. While passing through the comparatively wider streets in Makarandpur locality, one comes across a number of closed factories, which once produced natural perfumes. “Of the 45-50 big perfume manufacturing units a few decades ago, only eight-nine have survived…rest are closed,” says Rahul Mehrotra, whose fourth generation is in this business.

Mehrotra said that non-availability of sandalwood had virtually killed the perfume industry. “Earlier, there were a large number of sandalwood trees in and around Kannauj…now there are hardly any trees left,” he added.

Sandalwood trees used to be auctioned in Tamil Nadu in large quantity but now the quantity had gone down considerably.

Besides the shortage of main raw materials, the market for the end product had also shrunk greatly over the years. “The main buyers of the perfumes used to be makers of paan masala, gutkha and tobacco…now the governments have been cracking down on these industries,” says Tandon.

Paan masala and tobacco industries used to consume nearly 75 per cent of perfume produced here. Tandon said that the government should have taken measures to standardise the products rather than trying to kill them.

Pushpraj Jain, another leading perfume manufacturer in the town, lists out several reasons for the “death” of perfume industry in Kannauj. “Industrialists did not change with the passage of time,” Jain, whose children travelled to France to study the modern techniques of manufacturing various types of perfumes, told Deccan Herald.

Attars are still produced here using the traditional “degs and bhapka” system. It is essentially a hydro distillation process and workers have to be very experienced.  “It’s a long-drawn process though the end product is natural and is better in quality than the chemically produced ones,” Jain says.

Jain had not imagined that several years later, Grasse in France, known as the “world capital of perfume”, and the ancient town of Kannauj will join hands to revive the perfume industry, thanks to UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and his wife Dimple Yadav. While Akhilesh had started his political innings from Kannauj in the year 2000, his wife Dimple replaced him after he opted for state politics. Dimple currently represents the Lok Sabha constituency.

 Akhilesh and Dimple had travelled to Grasse earlier this year and inked several pacts with the perfume manufacturers on transfer of technology and training local youth.

A delegation of state officials and a few perfume makers from Kannauj had also accompanied Akhilesh to Grasse. Jain was part of the delegation.

The Uttar Pradesh Government would be setting up an international perfume museum and a perfume park at Kannauj in a bid to give the much-needed boost to the dying perfume industry.

“Officials have been asked to prepare a detailed project report for the international perfume museum and park at Kannauj,” said Nawab Singh Yadav, who is the representative of Dimple.

The government has decided to send groups of 10-15 youth to Grasse for a specific period for training in perfume making. “It will help them acquire and learn new techniques,” a local official said.

Akhilesh has taken some other measures as well for the perfume industry. The state government has reduced VAT from 15 to 4 per cent on some items while exempting a few others from VAT completely. “These measures have certainly come as big shot for the industry,” said the traders here.

While many feel that the park and other measures would go a long way in reviving the perfume industry, political divisions are quite clear. Some industrialists say that it would benefit only those who have links in the ruling Samajwadi Party. “It will only increase competition here….a few industrialists who are close to the ruling party may benefit from them,” said another prominent perfume maker. It seems many still prefer the desi process. “It's natural and we know it better,” is the common refrain.

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