“जिस फूल को वाहिद ऐ इक रोज़ ही जीना था, उस फूल को बक्शी है हयात हमने।“, that is Mr. Imran Ahmed, an itra craftsman’s take when someone says: you ruin beautiful flowers to make itra. सलीके से हवाओं में वो खुशबू घोल देते है,अभी कुछ लोग बाकी हैं जो मीठा बोल देते हैं, it’s called Neelam, said Mr. Imran Ahmed as he handed me the itra dipped strip. One after another I was being introduced to the aromas with beautiful lines that perfectly resonated with the attributes of those itra aromas. He talks about each aroma with such nuances as if it was a human with traits and emotions. Upon asking where does Lucknow itra or attar stands, as Kannauj is recognized as the perfume capital of India, he explains: no doubt Kannauj produces the largest amount of itra, but Lucknow itra is still shining worldwide for its distinctive aroma because it is created keeping in mind the मिज़ाज of Lucknow’s people. “नाक पे रख के रुमाल आये है बाग़ में, ता खुशबु-ए-गुल छनी जाये दिमाग में”, which clearly describes the utter sophistication of Lucknow’s people, he explained. Despite the prevailing commercialization in other parts of the country, Lucknow’s itra has retained its purest form. It never overpowers your senses.
Here, we still use the centuries-old “deg” or “bhapka” method to capture the true essence of flowers, exactly the way our forefathers did. I can easily recall our 13 generations in this craft. We never use flower buds in the process as it gives a whiff of the astringent aroma of green buds; which is only practiced in Lucknow. After separating flower petals from the buds, it is boiled in deg with little water in low flame for hours. The distillate is condensed and the droplets are collected. This liquid is transferred to an empty deg or copper pot and distilled again.
Certainly, we have evolved with changing times but we don’t want to lose the essence of our roots and heritage. Most of my customers are coming here from generations, so they are already acquainted with the old aromas “ये सदियों की खुशबु है ब-आसानी न जाएगी”, he exclaimed. No doubt it holds true for his loyal customers, but I feel these wonderful aromas need to be known amongst today’s generation. We seem to be varying off from our roots and inclined more towards commercially promoted deodorants and perfumes, which are full of chemicals and affect your olfactory system. On the other side, itra has therapeutic effects. Little did I know that earlier itra was used as per the season. Musk, amber, saffron give warmth in winters while Gulab, khas, and mitti ka itra have a soothing effect. I decided to give it a try and bought few little crystal bottles of memories and emotions. Lemon, bazm, organic rose water, were a few of them. I am using it and loved them unlike my previous perceived image of itra. They are soothing and refreshing. I feel we all should try these organic aromas at least once, maybe you will never want to go back.
Going to his shop is no less than attending a Lucknawi Mushayara-mehfil. His knowledge and love for the city reflect in his persona. I feel lucky to have a conversation with such a human being. He insisted I put “Neelam” dipped strip into my sling bag, and believe me my sling still smells “Neelam” even after 4 months!!