Tucked away in the heat and dust of the small-town market lane, between bicycle shops and automobile parts stores with rows of tyres and motor lubricants on display, is an establishment that exudes cool chic.
Henna Beauty Parlour stands out in the busy marketplace with its dark glass panes and clean frontage sans the ubiquitous tins and bins and grease and grime of the alley. Girls enter and step out with their faces done up and their hearts filled with a million hopes and desires. They arouse no curiosity, no lewd remarks.
The small town accepts the beauty parlour as part of the landscape, an idea that would probably have been foreign to it not many years ago.
It is an attitude that signals change in the hinterlands, that the rest of India, which long stood in stark contrast to our globalised cities, has now committed itself to the race to catch up, and fast. Fashion and beauty, once considered frivolous here, are now accepted pursuits. Parents want their daughters to have the hairstyle of a Madhuri Dixit and the complexion of an Aishwarya Rai. And they are willing to spend on it, even budgeting for it.
And in recent years, beauty parlours have sprung up even in rural areas to cater to the demand. They go by names like Complexion, Shine, Aishwarya, Kajal, Mohini, Looks, Ma Sheetla Durga, Ma Bhawani, Ma Vaibhav Lakshmi, Kashish and Jai Shakti, many of them having opened in the past two or three years — residents here say the first very few beauty parlours came up in 2000 — as home-run businesses before moving to the main market.
“Despite the poverty here, we see big money in this line in the coming days,” said Rashmi of Vaibhavi Beauty Parlour. “That’s why girls and housewives are doing short-term beauty courses from bigger towns like Azamgarh and Gorakhpur.” In Muslim-dominated Azamgarh city alone, a rough estimate puts their number of parlours at 150. Some of them have even turned into training centres.
There is at least one beauty parlour in every small village market that falls on the 110 km, extremely backward stretch from Azamgarh to Gorakhpur. Mushrooming hand-in-hand with them in the rural belt are the cosmetics shops that cater to the increasing demand for beauty products. Gone are the days when mothers forced their girls to use homemade shampoo of amla and shikakai. Now they want the branded shampoos, the availability of which in small pouches has created a sales revolution.
Barely six months ago Saroj was just another housewife. Her husband ran a telephone booth and a hardware shop near their farm at Raijajpur Chowk on the Azamgarh-Gorakhpur highway. As she had land to build a small room and “nothing to do at home”, she decided to start Kajal Beauty Parlour next to her husband’s shop. “It’s not a market area. There are only lush green fields all around,” said Saroj, who went to Kanpur for training. “Still, I have had some clients already. Women of all age groups come, mostly for eyebrows and a haircut. People who come to the phone booth enquire about the parlour.”
About 35 km away is Gagaha village. Here, Shalini Singh rented a shop to start Sapna Beauty Herbal Parlour about three years ago after training at a parlour in Gorakhpur.
“By and large, I get customers in the 25-40 age group, that too usually for eyebrow plucking and haircuts,” said Singh. “My clients come from the villages and willingly pay Rs 10 for eyebrow pluckings, Rs 20 for a simple haircut and Rs 200 for a facial,” said Singh. “Such is the desire to look good that a health club and a gym will be soon starting in the area.” Cosmetics are locally available, but at times Singh goes to the big towns for large purchases. And while manicures and pedicures are little known, the clients know what they want done with their hair and face.
“Hair tightly tied in two plaits with a big ribbon is passé, girls wants fringes in front with the hair cut short,” said Singh. “Often, they want it to be done like Madhuri Dixit or Bipasha Basu. They want their skin to be like Aishwarya Rai’s and Kareena Kapoor’s.” Bleach and facial are wedding day indulgences — not only for the bride but also others in the family. Even in Azamgarh, most parlours do brisk business in the wedding season. Big parlours charge between Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 for the works. A village -side parlour charges from Rs 500 to 1,000.
No doubt, beauty is becoming big business in the interiors. The final confirmation comes from a huge hoarding of Shahnaz Hussain opening a “Signature Saloon” in Faizabad.