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Shahnaz Husain, the Beauty queen

Agreat deal has been written about Shahnaz Hussain's success in the herbal cosmetics market, but it never seems enough. Even as international brands flood the country, Shahnaz remains everybody's ready reckoner for beauty tips. According to the beauty czarina, "Success does not mean what I have achieved. It is what I have given up to get there. I have always believed that in life, it is not important what you want - what really matters is how badly you want it."

A student of La Martiniere Girls College, Shahnaz still has family and friends in Lucknow. But way before she set her mind to making a career in the business of beauty, she had turned a fashion designer. A blog post about her early life in Lucknow notes how she always had a go-getter's spirit. She writes:

I was 19 years old and very bored; my three-year-old daughter Nelofar had just started nursery school leaving me with long hours of restlessness in the quiet town of Lucknow where my husband was posted. I had of course no clue of what destiny had in store for me, I just knew that this was not the life that I would lead forever, and the restive knot in my soul told me that there was something in me that I had not yet become aware of. The process of discovering who I was took many years, many years of searching in the wilderness. I decided, to my family's shock, that I was going to take on a job, because with no particular inclination or direction that seemed like the only logical move to make.There was just one problem, in the traditional up country town I lived in, there were very few jobs for women.

A small ad in the classified columns caught the eye of my ever indulgent husband and he pushed the paper to me. "Read that," he said. It was an ad. for a dress designer for children clothes at a place run by the government called Nari Kala Mandir. An institution that had co-practiced the exquisite talents of women embroiderers. Within the next hour I was waiting in a queue of hopefuls for an interview. The lady across the table looked at me and asked if I had ever trained as a designer to which I said 'No I have not trained as a designer but I have something more than that to offer, I have a natural flair and I assure you that I will do a wonderful job for you'. She looked up and smiled and I still remember her eyes piercing through me in her moment of judgment. 'Okay, we'll keep you,' she said finally and I heaved a sigh of relief. I was simply ecstatic. The kind of happiness that can be yours only once; when you get your first ever job. The feeling of achievement and empowerment was elating. 'Your salary,' she went on will be `175 per month and your timings 10 to 4."

I enjoyed designing and spent hours sketching baby frocks. At the end of the month the accountant came to me, "What name should your pay check be in?" he asked. "I will take clothes for my daughter instead of the salary," I said instinctively. Every time I sketched a baby frock I could only see my baby in it. She was my muse, my inspiration. No. it's not that I did not need the money, I did, but dressing Nelofar like a little baby doll meant a lot to me, as did the my first job at Nari Kala Mandir. This has remained at the core of my life, because your first natural instinct is 'you'. I always felt passionately for my work, but I have loved my family equally.


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