Hyderabad: Hyderabad, with its rich Islamic heritage, has no parallels when it comes to Ramazan. While the pious observe fast for purification of their soul, it is also the season of unprecedented economic activity in the run-up to Eid-ul-Fitr.
As the countdown begins for Eid Aug 31, shopping in this historic city has reached a feverish pitch. The Old City does not sleep any more and the month-long festivities have reached a climax. As one crosses the Musi river, traffic snarls greet you even past midnight.
The illuminated centuries-old markets around the historic Charminar, the azan or call of muezzin for namaz from mosques, the recitation of the holy Quran, the playing of `naat` (hymns) and Qawwalis (sufi songs) on music systems, the aroma of lip-smacking `haleem` (a special dish) and the calls of hawkers inviting customers in their quaint style take one to a different world.
The over four-centuries-old city and other Muslim-majority localities come alive during the holy month, especially on the eve of Eid.
"Of late, the night bazaar trend is catching up. Earlier it used to be three to four days before Eid. Now you find the whole market open throughout the night for 15 to 20 days," says Mazhar Hussain, executive director, Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA).
"It is just like in the Middle East. You don`t find it in any other Indian city. Some localities around Nizamuddin in Delhi witness such activity but it is there in a very limited area," Hussain told reporters.
One finds the markets opening only after `Zohar` namaz or afternoon prayers as people begin shopping for `Iftar` or the breaking of dawn-to-dusk fast.
With Muslims accounting for 40 percent of the city`s estimated seven million population, every commodity associated with the festivities opens up huge business opportunities during the month.
From fruits to imported dates, `haleem` to `dahi bade`, skull cap to `itar` or perfumes, the volumes of business are beyond anybody`s guess. As most of the business is in the unorganised sector, the figures are not available. However, the business covering eatables, garments and footwear is estimated to be over Rs.2,000 crore.
`Haleem`, a special dish preferred after breaking the fast, alone does a business of an estimated Rs.100 crore. Made of meat, wheat flour, spices and ghee, it is said to have come to Hyderabad during the Mughal period via Iran and Afghanistan. During Ramazan, every hotel and eatery sells the delicacy.
"Haleem is a unique dish. People equate Ramazan with haleem and for many there is no roza (fast) without it," Mazhar Hussain said.
It is also the month when shopping and feasting go together. "It is because people who fast during the day come out for shopping after Iftar," said Syed Mujtaba, who sells skull caps near the historic Mecca Masjid, said.
Eid shopping in Hyderabad attracts people not just from the city and surroundings areas but also from other parts of Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The authorities have been planning a night bazaar and the pedestrianisation of the Charminar area for a long time to attract tourists. But during Ramazan both the projects become a reality, at least for a brief period. One can hardly drive on the Madina-Charminar road as the makeshift shops come up on footpaths and the hawkers occupy the entire road.
Such is the economic spin-off of Ramazan that thousands of people get additional income by setting up makeshift shops to sell eatables, garments, skull caps, dates, `itar`, vermicelli, CDs containing recitation of Quran by famous `Qaris`, speeches of religious scholars and other items.
Mohammed Haseeb, who is into the catering business, sets up a small shop during this period near Charminar to sell Pathani suits, kurta- pyjamas, which are preferred by a majority of people for Eid.
"We do brisk business during the last 10 days of Ramazan and earn anywhere between Rs.20,000 and Rs. 30,000," he said.
Another trader, Mohammed Ismail, who runs a footwear shop in the Koti area, moves his business to Old City during the holy period. He earns a net income of Rs.50,000, most of which is in the last four to five days.
With the well-to-do families paying `zakaat` or the Islamic wealth tax of 2.5 percent on their cash and other valuables and every man who fasts paying `fitra` (fixed this year at Rs.60), the poor also join the festivities and add to the huge Ramazan business.