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Ramadan, the month of unprecedented shopping in Hyderabad

With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan entering its final phase, Eid shopping has reached its peak in this city of nawabs, palaces, pearls and tasty biryani.

While Hyderabad is known more for its rapid strides in IT in recent years, its traditional lifestyle steeped in Muslim culture is still strong, giving the city a unique distinction of being a fine blend of tradition and modernity.

As one crosses the Musi river to enter the Old City, 'azan' or call of the muezzin for prayers from the historic Makkah Masjid and dozens of other mosques and the sight of the faithful with skullcaps rejuvenate one's belief.

Veiled Muslim women busy in shopping at hundreds of glittering shops, hundreds of vendors selling everything from needle to garments, bangles to cosmetics and fruits to lip-smacking dishes, the aroma of Ramadan special 'haleem' (a special dish), the recitation of the holy Quran, 'naat' (hymns) and 'qawwalis' (Sufi songs) being played on music systems all take one to a different world.

Muslims constitute 40 percent of the city's four million population. They are an overwhelming majority in the Old City. What sets this city and its Muslim population apart is the legacy of nearly four centuries of Muslim rule, domination of a Muslim political party, a sizeable diaspora, mostly in the Gulf, and the relatively better economic and educational status compared to their counterparts in other states.

Laad Bazaar, the centuries-old world famous market of bangles and bridal wear, Patthargatti, the hub of pearls and jewellery shops and perfumes, Patel market, the biggest cloth market, Madina circle, famous for readymade garments and shoes and food joints, all remain open throughout the night during Ramadan.

It is estimated that the traders do a business of Rs.5-7 billion during the holy month. It includes imported dates for breaking fast, fruits, vermicelli and dry fruit for Eid.

Dates, for instance, are imported from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries for the season. The sale of fruits goes up several times. So does the demand for 'attar' or perfumes.

Almost every hotel prepares 'haleem', an Arabic dish, made of meat, wheat flour, spices and high quality 'ghee'. It is said to have come to Hyderabad during the Mughal period via Iran and Afghanistan.

The 'haleem' of some food joints like Pista House has become so popular that they have opened outlets in other parts of the city.

"We can't resist the temptation to taste 'haleem' every day. As it is available only during Ramadan we don't want to miss it," said Ajay Kumar, an IT professional.

This unprecedented economic activity is not just confined to the Old City of Hyderabad. Areas like Abids, Nampally, Mallepally, Mehdipatnam, Toli Chowki, parts of Banjara Hills in central or newer pars of the city have also turned hot shopping hubs for the season.

People from other parts of the state and even neighbouring states like Karnataka and Maharashtra drop in to enjoy the Ramadan shopping.

Every man, woman and child wear new clothes on Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan. Such is the demand that the tailors stop taking orders after the 15th Ramadan.

Thousands of poor and beggars from other places descend on the city to collect 'zakaat' or the Islamic wealth tax given by every well-to-do Muslim family.

Such is the economic spin-off of Ramadan that thousands of other workers set up roadside shops to sell garments, perfumes, caps, household items, fruits and eatables. It is estimated that 20,000-25,000 people set up makeshift shops here during the season.

The month-long religious activities come to an end with mass prayers in 'Idgahs' or open grounds. Attired in new clothes, people celebrate the occasion with 'sheerkorma' (sweet dish).

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