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Heir conditioned

Having a famous surname often means having to live up to high expectations. Three women from privileged backgrounds tell us why they don’t fear any comparisons.
By Tashneem Chaudhury | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 10, 2011 05:05 PM IST

I am not in any race to be famous: Shruti Choudhry, Congress MP

She’s a heady mix of good looks, fabulous lineage and gritty determination to succeed. At 35, Congress MP Shruti Choudhry, granddaughter of Choudhry Bansi Lal, former chief minister of Haryana, and daughter of politicians Surender Singh and Kiran Choudhry, is the new kid on the block. But far from being intimidated about her choice of career, Choudhry is well equipped to rise to the occasion. She says, “I am a great believer in destiny and am not in any race to be famous. For me, what really matters is that I should be remembered as a giving human being, someone who contributed to the good of this world in one’s own little but meaningful way.”

When Choudhry won the Lok Sabha elections in 2009, it was more or less primarily because of the goodwill generated by her family throughout the years. But now this third generation politician is very enthusiastic about her plans to develop her constituency - Bhiwani-Mahendragarh in Haryana – and has concrete plans laid out to achieve just that.

Choudhry’s road to the Lok Sabha was a roundabout one. After doing her schooling from Convent of Jesus & Mary, followed by Delhi Public School, R K Puram, she went on to study at Oxford.

She graduated from Dayal Singh College, Delhi University, and finally received a degree in law from BR Ambedkar University, Agra. She then practiced law with the firm Karanjewala & Co. But after the death of her father Surender Singh (who was with the Haryana Vikas Party) in 2005, her grandfather Bansi Lal, in a rare and sudden gesture, put the pagri on her head in front of a mourning public. That was the turning point of her life, says Choudhry, because it was no ordinary gesture.

“That decided my future for me,” she says, adding, “Honestly speaking, when I started out, I had mixed feelings about all this. The magnitude of the responsibility overwhelmed me, and I was aware that serving the people is possibly one of the toughest jobs in the world. I knew because I had seen my family do this for ages.”

But receiving the full support of her mother gave Choudhry heart. “Each time I think of how brave and honest she is, I feel more strengthened,” says Choudhry, adding, “I feel this is the only way to live life... to be the next link in the chain and to faithfully carry the work forward.”

According to Choudhry, her new life does not have any downsides, other than “the hard work you have to put in and the loss of family time”. What does she do in the little free time that she gets now? “I like to travel and read,” says Shruti. “Luckily, my husband Arunabh, also a lawyer, is a people’s person and is extremely compassionate and generous. He has been a great support every step of the way.”

Also, coming from a family of achievers means you get inspiration on home ground. “My family has always been very connected to people at the grassroots level,” explains Choudhry. “There are around six and a half thousand villages in Haryana, and my father knew at least 20 people personally in each village by name!”

She adds, “On his own area, he knew almost each and every family. So you can imagine the enormous amount of work he must have done to have that kind of knowledge and personal bond with people. Naturally, people expect me to be like him, and I am only happier for it.” Choudhry says tht the best part of her job is the high she gets when connecting with her people and deriving enormous energy from it.

How close is she to her mother Kiran? “My mother and I are extremely close and share a deep bond,” confides Choudhry. “She is also a perfectionist and tough taskmaster. We can be in the constituency together and exchange ideas as equals, or go on a holiday together and have fun like best friends. We sometimes have a different way of doing things, but I have great regard for her experience and age. However, I do have my own independent views and take my own decisions, which are primarily based on the views of my people whom I represent.”

When asked about her heroes, she says, “I draw inspiration from great leaders and thinkers like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther, Sardar Patel, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, my dada Bansi Lal and my parents.” Among the present-day crop of leaders, it’s clearly Sonia Gandhi who’s her ideal, along with Rahul Gandhi for “his vision and commitment towards the common man”.

Choudhry has miles to go before she sleeps and she knows it. “I have only begun,” she says enthusiastically, “There is so much to do! My constituency is the largest constituency of Haryana, and yet it is also one of the most backward areas. From basic infrastructure to education to healthcare, all are my priorities.”

Any final words of advice for the youth of our country? “I repeat what was said a century ago by Swami Vivekananda, says Choudhry. “Be strong enough to take the entire responsibility on your shoulders. Get up and work towards your goal, and stop not till the goal is reached.”

I love great food and even more than that, I love to cook: Kunwar Rani Kulsum Begum, Royal Chef

She may hail from an extremely well-born background, but Kunwar Rani Kulsum Begum has no problem with getting her hands dirty in the kitchen.

The niece of Nawab Yusuf Ali, Salar Jung III, of the Hyderabad royal family and wife of Kunwar Amir Naqui Khan of Mehmoodabad, this talented food consultant and celebrity chef with the ITC group came into the food business quite by chance. Says the Begum, “I never started out thinking of making a job of my culinary skills. Otherwise, I would still be rustling up my delicious khana at home and for our personal parties.”

How did her interest in cooking begin, considering women from royal families don’t not need to enter the kitchen? “It’s a long story,” says the Begum. “During the fifties, when I was growing up, royalty in Hyderabad was quite advanced for its time. In our family, girls and boys were considered equal in terms of education and all sorts of opportunities. So strict were these ‘laws of equality’ in the family that girls were forbidden to enter the kitchen lest they learnt how to cook.”

So, unless a girl of this family knew how to cook, she would not be privy to any of the royal secret recipes of the dynasty. That’s how the Begum’s interest and secret forays into the kitchen began, into a world where cooking was compared to the highest art and not something to be brushed aside as only a ‘woman’s job’.

From live pigeons fluttering out of biryanis to making edible plates that guests could eat, the Salar Jung family invested highly in showmanship as well as taste. But it was only after the Begum married into the Nawab of Lucknow’s family that she fully understood and missed the legacy of her forefathers.

“I was married at a very early age,” says the Begum, adding, “When I moved to Lucknow after my marriage, I found Lucknowi food to be very different as compared to Hyderabadi cuisine. A great longing for Hyderabadi food made me call my daadi and persuade her to part with her recipes through letters.”

The Begum explains, “The specialties of the Salar Jung family soon became a rage in Lucknow, due to the lavish parties held by our family. The ITC group heard of my recipes and invited me for a food festival in Delhi, where I was accompanied by Renuka Chowdhary, former Minister of State for Tourism. At that time, I was apprehensive about whether I would be able to manage this renowned festival, since this was the first time that a housewife would step into a hotel kitchen. But everything worked out smoothly and I was relieved.”

According to the Begum, tradition can be a double-edged sword, because you have to prove that you are good enough to have a legacy passed on to you. “Our tradition dictated that recipes be passed on only to daughters-in-law and not daughters who would marry into other families,” she explains, adding, “So my grandmother (born in an aristocratic Iranian family) protected her recipes, refusing to even let any children enter the kitchen. Our cuisine requires elaborate procedures to be followed and to get the right taste it is important to follow the traditional methods.”

Now, the Begum’s children are taking forward the legacy. “My daughters Maliha and Sakina experiment a lot whenever they get the time. My son also makes excellent Lucknowi food.” As for her cooking at home, the Begum does cook occasionally and as and when her children demand it. She is also full of praise for the support of her spouse and his involvement in her culinary career. “My husband has always been very supportive. Since the first time I decided to participate in the food festival and display Salar Jung’s exquisite culinary traditions, he has always boosted my confidence and encouraged me to display my culinary skills,” says the Begum.

She adds that you have to love great food to be able to cook it. “I love great food and even more than that, I love to cook. The expertise to craft great dishes runs in my blood. It is a passion that can never fade with time. It is God’s blessing.”

The Begum has a word of advice to beginners in the world of cuisine. “Jo bhi karo, dil se karo – that is my only mantra for success,” she says with a smile.

Kulsum Begum’s recipe

Khubaani Ka Meetha

Ingredients
250 gm apricot (dry)
200 gm sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

Method
Wash apricots and soak in 2 cups of water overnight. Remove the apricots, add sugar to the water and cook on fire to make a syrup. Slit the apricots, remove the seeds and keep them aside to be used later. Add apricots to the sugar syrup and cook until thick. Add lemon juice to it and remove from the fire.

Break the seeds gently and remove the almonds. Boil them and peel the skin so that it can be used for garnishing. Serve with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.

Gosht Ki Chutney

Ingredients
1 kg Mutton boti
500 gm Oil
100 gm Roasted til paste
50 gm Roasted coconut paste
4 tbsp Ginger-garlic paste
2 tbsp Chilli powder
2 tbsp Cumin powder
2 tbsp Coriander powder
Salt to taste
1 cup Tamarind pulp
2 tins Tomato puree
15 gm Curry leaves
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tsp Kalonji
1 tsp Mustard seeds
Fenugreek seeds-1 tsp
12 cloves Garlic (whole)
6 Red chillies

Method:
In a sauté pan, boil the mutton boti with ginger-garlic paste for 45 minutes till the pieces are well cooked and can be easily shredded by hand. Heat the oil, add cumin seeds, kalonji, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, whole garlic, red chillies, curry leaves and allow to crackle. Now add the ginger garlic paste, roasted til paste, coconut paste, cumin powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, tomato puree and tamarind pulp. Bhuno till the masala is well cooked and the oil floats on top. Now add the shredded lamb, and sauté till the mixture is homogenous.

I love to contribute to making people feel beautiful: Samantha Kochchar, Beauty Expert

She can make a lot of heads turn when she walks in. But Samantha Kochchar, daughter of Blossom Kochchar - one of the nation’s top beauty experts - believes in helping others become headturners. From budding beauty queens to Bollywood actresses to international celebrities, she’s styled them all.

Kochchar has been privy to her mom Blossom’s work in the beauty business since she was a little girl. “That inculcated in me the sense that this is a lot of hard work and where you cannot afford to take it easy because your reputation depends on it,” she explains, adding that she was just a child when she became aware of what her mom’s job was - to make people look and thereby feel good. And like all little girls, she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

It was this steadfast love for her mom’s profession as a leading beauty and aromatherapy expert that made Kochchar stick to her guns. But she did not jump into the fray immediately. She completed her education and saw a bit of the world before she joined hands with her mother as a hairstylist in her own right. “Education is an important thing,” says Kochchar, who trained at Pivot Point International beauty school in Chicago. Presently, she is chief technical and creative director at the Blossom Kochchar College of Creative Arts & Design.

Still, she’s not content to rest on her laurels and her mother’s fame. Says Kochchar, “My mother taught me a lot. Her guidance has brought me where I am, and her fame has taught me to strive better. I would say it is positive pressure. I would love to be like her one day.”

She adds, “Being from a lineage of achievers teaches you to work hard and perform better. It definitely puts you in the limelight, but what matters is how much justice you do to the name of the people who have given you that position in life.”

Kochchar also admits to still being in awe of her mother. “I cannot think of filling her shoes,” she says, adding, “But as I grew up and saw my mother make a mark in the Indian beauty industry, my only thought was that I wanted to be like her. Replicating her success is not my aim. I would be happy to achieve only an iota of what she has. She makes me very proud.”

Kochchar and her mother also share an enviable chemistry. She explains, “I grew up with my mother by my side. My father, being in the Indian army, was always away. My mother would take me to various beauty seminars around the world, teaching me all I had to learn. I spent so much time with her that today she is my friend. But of course both my parents have influenced me along the years in different positive ways.”

Kochchar’s client list reads like a Who’s Who – with Sting, Ricky Martin, Lara Dutta, Dia Mirza, Priyanka Chopra and Nikita Anand among them.

In addition, she’s has done hair and beauty styling for various filmmakers, for the Miss World Pageant in 1996, for playwrights like Barry Jones, Amir Raza Hussain and Vivek Mansukhani. She also worked with Ashley Lobo on his musicals and has worked on creating the look for the DanceWorx Calendar 2007. Another feather in her cap was when she was elected the Education Director for Asia Zone of Organisation Mondiale Coiffure (World Hairdressers Association), a prestigious post in the international professional circuit.

After all this, isn’t it natural that she should want her children to follow suit? “Not really. I have aspirations of course. But I do not want to impose them on my son. I want him to make his own choices and like a good mother I will always support and love him,” explains Kochchar.

And any final words of advice? “Beauty, wellness and makeup has been my passion,” explains Kochchar, adding, “I love to contribute to making people feel beautiful, which in turn makes them happy. Apart from the social service work I do, nothing else could have made me so happy and content. I think the key is: Believe in yourself. The sky is the limit. Always yearn to learn every day as it will only improve your skills and help you professionally.”

- From HT Brunch, March 6

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