Shopkeepers turn to charms of lemons and chillies for good luck

Hard-hit businessmen are pinning fresh citrus and spice over their doors to ward off "evil eyes" as they struggle through tough economic times.

Gopi Purohit with a string of chillies and a lemon he will hang in his clothing shop in the Meena Bazaar.
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DUBAI // Every Sunday, Ajay Raina picks up a fresh yellow lemon and chillies from a store near the garment shop where he works. He threads them on to an iron wire, and hangs them above the entrance to the shop in Bur Dubai's Meena Bazaar. As the shutters are opened for business, the scent from the dripping lemon juice spreads throughout the shop.

Mr Raina is not the only one to do this. Walk through the bazaar, or the gold souq in Deira, and many shops have similar bunches of citrus and spice. They are there, say the traders, to ward off "evil eyes" and specifically to bring good luck as they struggle to stay afloat through tough economic times. "I heard that at least three shops in this lane have closed," said one trader in the gold souq, who did not want to be named. "Business has affected everyone here. There is no doubt about that."

Other gold traders said the lack of customers and high gold prices had hurt their bottom lines. According to Jignesh Kumar, 32, owner of Dhanji Motiram & Sons, business last year was down from 2008 by as much as 40 per cent. "The gold souq is a tourist-driven market," said Mr Kumar, who runs the 15-year-old family business. "We do not have that many coming these days. "It's a matter of holding on; there is no doubt that the market will improve."

Just to make sure that the market does pick up, he too has a bunch of lemons and chillies above the entrance to his shop. "Our belief is that good luck should come to the shop," Mr Kumar said. "Hence the lemon bunch." Textile shops, too, are feeling the pinch. At Meena Bazaar, populated largely by Asian entrepreneurs, traders said sales were swift until the recession hit. "Of course, the business is not like it was before," said Sunil Awtaney, 31, the owner of Shilpi Textiles. "It was at its peak in 2008. In 2009, as we all know, everything crashed and business dropped. We suffered all year long."

Despite having the Dubai Museum nearby, the tourist trade at the bazaar has fallen off sharply. "We see many fewer tourists here these days," said Mr Awtaney. "Most are coming from the subcontinent. It's probably because Europe is so badly hit by the recession. "Our profit margins have dropped. Also, customers have become more choosy. It's important to give them something new and a lot of variety. We have to give them more choice, more variety."

The strong scent of lemon, from the bunch hanging in the corner of the doorway, is apparent as you walk into his shop. "I change the lemon and chilli every Tuesday," Mr Awtaney said. "We believe it brings good luck." With stories rife of shops shutting due to poor business, he is one of several traders who said that it was not unusual in such circumstances to become more devout, even superstitious.

"If you go into a Muslim shop, they would have some religious writings," he said. "All this is just beliefs of people hoping to find good luck." Kalpesh Gandhi, the owner of Urooz, a garment shop that opened last year in Meena Bazaar, echoes the anxiety. "This year has been bad so far," he said. "We have estimated a 30 per cent loss in business mostly due to the drop in tourists coming here. "We have been functioning for the last four months and we already feel the pinch of recession."

Lemons have long been considered auspicious among Hindus, and are displayed and used in most rituals. A lemon-chilli bunch is often seen hanging from the doors of homes in India, especially newly constructed houses. New cars in India are driven over lemon as they are rolled out of showrooms. Many shops have other good-luck charms, too, from horseshoes over the door to Hindu idols and saffron clothes bought from holy places in India.

"Everyone has beliefs," said Mr Raina, who works at Dhanbad Traders, and has been in the clothing trade for 10 years. "We do this to bring good luck to our shops. This is the need of the hour. It helps keep evil eyes or bad sight from the shop. It also attracts good luck. "It's just a traditional thing to do. When the boss comes, he makes sure that the lemon bunch is hanging over the door."