The Hyderabadi who did India proud
'He who coined the expression 'ugly duckling' obviously did not know what he was talking about,' said Shahnaz Hussain, the undisputed czarina of the...
She should know what she was talking about because she has earned not only international but legendary fame in the beauty business.A How does she herself manage to look so young and beautiful? Who would suspect her of being a grandmother?
"More important than these questions is how I help other women look young and beautiful," she replied in a voice of good volume and careful, almost conscious, modulation.A Her patrician features owe to her patrician lineage. After all, she hails from a family of Nawabs of Hyderabad.
"My father, Mr. N. U. Baig, was Chief Justice of Hyderabad, and my uncle, the late Mr. M. H. Baig, was the Chief Justice of India and then Chairman of the Minorities Commission. Since you say you are from Hyderabad, you may have heard of my grandfather, Mirza Yar Jung, who was Chief Justice of Hyderabad and Governor of Nagpur."
There was not a tinge of pride in her voice as she recollected her ancestry. Then how did she deviate into the beauty business? I asked, my manner unabashedly appraising. "A good question because nobody has asked it before. Everyone else has asked only about the herbal formulations."
Shahnaz paused to give instructions to those preparing a consignment of herbal preparations meant for Australia, and then reverted to me.A "At the age of 16 I went to study in England. There I saw a TV advertisement of mascara which, the ad said, would thicken the eyelashes. Within days I saw on the same TV screen a girl who had used the mascara and gone blind.
"That set me thinking. Shortly thereafter I learnt that an Indian child in that country had died after using a kajal imported from South India. That, I told myself, was the limit."
Shahnaz returned to India and initiated a study of the beauty potential of herbs, and found that they were the answer to the average woman's desire to look beautiful. A "It is basically herbs which have been copied by synthetics. In other words, the West copied the East," she said with conviction.
Considering the difficulty I had had meeting her without prior appointment, I wanted to make the most of the interview, not a little because she is commonly believed to avoid giving interviews to the media.
I now asked a longish question. Some men like their secretaries to assume synthetic glamour, mainly on the pretext that it pleases their customers. But synthetic glamour can easily be distinguished from genuine beauty.
If a woman is endowed with the latter, she does not need to submit to the ministrations of beauticians and herbalists. If, conversely, she is not, then no beautician possesses the magic wand that can transform a Cinderella into a ravishing beauty. What is her take?
Shahnaz heard me out patiently and looked amused by the question. In the ensuing discomfiture, I noticed that her way of dressing her hair had definitely contributed to the impression that she was a lot younger than she actually was. It was swept loosely back to cover a major portion of the nape of her neck, sort of giving her the look of a coryphée, an impression that was not contradicted by the extreme, almost complacent, neatness of her dress.
"Every woman's face has some sharp features, both good and bad. All that I help her do is heighten the former and tone down the latter. And what do you mean by synthetic glamour? If Nature has provided for the process of ageing, it also has some devices for arresting the process, at least in appearances. I mean the herbs.
"As far as I am concerned, what you call ministrations are totally based on herbs. I diagnose each case and prescribe consumption of herbs in some cases and application of ointments in others. Remember, no woman is really ugly. Some women are just plain Janes because they have not understood their own potential for looking beautiful.
"If I may put it frankly, the so-called ugly woman is really born lazy, not born ugly."
In the tone of a school mistress dealing with a student who is slow on the uptake, Shahnaz told me, in between orders shouted to assistants: "The unique aspect of my herbal range is that it is geared for maintenance and care. It has been used extensively in the cure of alopecia, falling hair, dandruff, acne, pigmentation, scars, blemishes, and for minimizing the ageing process." What has been the national and international response to these herbals products?
"To what extent our products have caught the imagination of the West can be gauged from just one instance, although I could give many instances. For instance, in August 1982 I became the first Asian to be allowed to enter London's most prestigious store, Selfridges, to participate in the Festival of India. Shahnaz herbal cosmetics were so successful that 11 consignments were airlifted in 10 weeks, breaking a 40-year-old British cosmetic sales record by selling cosmetics worth 2,700 pound sterling in just two hours! The London Daily report the following day had a headline which read: 'Herbal Hell Breaks Loose at Selfridges'".
Shahnaz has won so many honours, national and international, that a mere list of them would fill up many pages. "But, by my reckoning, the greatest honour is that I have been able to make the world realize the herbal wealth of India," she said with becoming modesty and patriotic pride.