“I was 14 when I got married, and by 16, I was a mother. It was never planned. Things just happened,” says Shahnaz Husain, when asked if she ever imagined that she would be looked upon as one of the most influential names in the beauty business.
“All I knew was that I had an urge to learn and study more. So, I studied cosmetic therapy and cosmetology in London (UK), Paris (France), New York (USA), Germany and Copenhagen (Denmark). I took up one course after the other to the point where they said, you’ve exhausted yourself. All we can offer you now is a teaching position,” she recalls.
The academically oriented Husain returned to India and went about her beauty business without causing a ripple in the international beauty scene. However, things were set to change. “I used to read a lot of beauty magazines, and I read about CIDESCO (Comité International d’Esthétique et de Cosmétologie — a beauty therapy association). It had listed its presence in many countries. However, I was appalled to see they had an ‘I’ for Indonesia, but not India,” she says.
She soon wrote to Nina Haas, the president of CIDESCO at the time, who explained to Husain that perhaps she can try making India a member country. But not before going through a gruelling formality of attending a conference, applying for membership, making a presentation in front of members, then leaving it to the poll to let the ballot decide whether the represented country could be shortlisted or not. Husain decided to take the chance and proceeded to attend the conference. There she stood out because “while other members represented brands, I represented India”.
She eventually succeeded in making India a member nation and also became the president of CIDESCO. “For me, the motive was to bring the spotlight on what India had to offer. We have a rich history of Ayurveda; all that other people had to offer was chemicals,” she explains.
The relevance of Ayurveda is only ascending day by day, asserts Husain. “These days, everything is coated with chemicals, including vegetables and fruits. Even the manure you add to crops is not gobar (cow dung), but chemicals. Why would you want to add to it by using shampoos and moisturisers that have chemicals? If you use them every day, the chemicals have a tendency to seep into your skin.”
Interestingly, Shahnaz learnt how to use natural products from her mother, Sayeeda Begum, who belonged to the Nizam family of Hyderabad. “When I used soap, my mum would always say, ‘Use rice powder to wash your face, beta’. It’s true, mothers and grandmothers always know better. Crushed almonds, saffron, turmeric and milk — these are the things we should be using to wash our faces. That’s all we need,” she says, adding with a laugh, “Jaana to hai hi, ayurved se aaram se jayenge. (We all have to leave the world someday, Ayurveda just makes it a little painless.)”
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The author tweets @iamsusanjose