Headgear has symbolised the status of man in society since ancient times. From rulers, royal families, spiritual heads, intellectuals to heads of different tribes, each had a unique headgear. The rulers of princely states in India had their distinct headgear, mostly in the form of crowns.
With changing times, the headgear has also undergone a transformation. It is no longer just a status symbol. It is also used as a protection from the sun and for many it is a fashion statement.
In Hyderabad, a city steeped in Muslim culture with a long history of Muslim rule, a shop — more than a century-old — is keeping the tradition of cap (Topi in Urdu) alive. As one crosses Naya Pul on Musi River to enter the old city on the way to Charminar, the symbol of Hyderabad, dozens of shops selling different merchandise will come into sight, and standing tall among them is Mohammed Cap Mart.
The mart — the biggest cap shop in the city — offers more than 1,000 varieties of caps, ranging from ‘Rumi’ cap made famous by Nizams — the erstwhile rulers of Hyderabad State, to the dazzling hats and fur caps of different textures to velvet and woollen caps and the skullcaps made of thread and wore by worshippers.
The caps — Rumi, Omani, Moroccan, Afghani, Qureshia, Kashmiri, Barkati, Afreen, Bukhaara, Haqqani, Indian katora, plain velvet, Mughal Gonda and Rampuri — at Mohammed Cap Mart range from ₹250 to ₹6,000.
The caps not only identified with the countries they are made in but also highlight the culture of different people. “We have both the imported ones and those made in India,” managing partner of Mohammed Cap Mart, Ilyas Bukhari told the Federal. They are imported from countries like Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Qatar, Indonesia, Belgium, Pakistan and Russia.
Khara khuri, made of goat and sheep skin from Kashmir, is among the most expensive ones.
The Rumi caps – accessorised with silk tassels on the side — are the pride of Hyderabad. The cylindrical hats are commonly available in red, maroon and black. Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last ruler of erstwhile Hyderabad State, who was 5 feet tall, used to wear the Rumi topi to look taller, especially while meeting foreign guests.
In fact, the store began its journey when the Rumi topi was in vogue. It was the largest selling cap with people from royal families to the middle classes buying it. The Christy factories in London used to make these caps.
Ilyas Bukhari’s grandfather Peer Mohammed Bukhari, opened a small shop in the early 1900s to sell caps, before which he was working in a small cap making unit.
Along with the Rumi topi, the store also used to sell the Fez cap, originally used by Turkish labourers.
“He started with the Rumi topi because it was the flavor of the time and it was the custom. From Nizams, members of royal family to middle class people, every one used to wear it. There was no other cap. People also used to bring their caps to us for ironing,” he said.
With changing times, the shop introduced new varieties. After the ‘Rumi’ topi came the summer caps which broke all sales records, said Ilyas Bukhari. This was followed by caps made of velvet, fur, wool and thread.
Though times have changed, the shop still sells Rumi topis. There are some families, especially the descendants of noblemen, who still wear this topi. People wear it on special occasions like marriages and Eid.
The fourth generation of the family is keeping the legacy alive with Ilyas Bukhari’s sons taking the business a step ahead. The business has now expanded into other domains like carpets, home furnishing, seasonal utilities and men’s ethnic wear. Bukhari’s sons not only opened new branches in the city but also started Jahanpanah – a men’s ethnic brand store.
Jahanpanah now has 14 stores in Hyderabad, Bengalauru, Chennai, Pune, Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada. Will the new generation foraying into new business mean end of the cap business? Ilyas Bukhari says no. He is determined to maintain the identity of the shop by selling caps along with other merchandise. “We want to modify and modernize the showroom and give it a new look,” he said.
Bukhari plans to convert the showroom into a centre, selling all merchandise related to Islamic dresses. Besides the prayer caps, the showroom will have different varieties of dresses and headgear for both men and women, the special clothing required for pilgrims going to ‘Haj’ and ‘Umra’, the ethnic wear of Arabs, holy Quran and other Islamic literature.
“You will get everything related to Islamic dresses and prayers under one roof. This will be only centre of its kind in India,” said Bukhari.
Mohammed Cap Mart is already known as the biggest supplier of ‘janamaz’ (prayer rugs) in south India. It imports the rugs made of wool from countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Malaysia.
Ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, the business of prayer rugs picks up as many Muslims donate the rugs to mosques. This year, the showroom will be selling the same rugs which are used for Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest places in Saudi Arabia. These rugs are made by Al Suraya, a Turkish company which has plants in Saudi Arabia to make these special rugs.