Sudha, 42, runs a small beauty salon in a small town of Rajasthan. Even after 18 years in business, she tells LokMarg, the harassment by young men in the area hasn’t stopped. Nor the small town society’s view about a beautician. Her story:
If I were in Mumbai, the Bollywood, I would be called a make-up artist. Here, in Jhalawar (Rajasthan), I have many names, from beauty parlour-wallhi to dhandewali and bigdi hui aurat (woman of easy virtue). Girls in my neighbourhood are discouraged to speak to me lest I should ‘corrupt’ them. But most men size me up on the sly and pass comments. Some of them would wait for me to close the shop and follow me to my house. In 18th year of business now, I have got used to all that.
I grew up in a family where elders told me not to be heard, not to be seen. Even on religious occasions, womenfolk in the family visited the temple at 4 in the morning. Stepping out in full public glare was prohibited and speaking in a loud voice was discouraged.
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When I got married, rather early by city standards, the curfew hours relaxed but women were still expected to follow the set rules of a conservative Thakur family. It was a personal tragedy that made me sit up and took charge. I was 24 when my husband met with a paralytic stroke. We had children to bring up and his medical expense were high. A lesser woman would have chosen to live on family generousity but I decided not to live on handouts.
At that time, there was no beauty salon in the area where I live and on marriages, women travelled long distances for a professional hairdo or makeup. Those who could afford summoned the ‘beautician’ home. I sensed a business opportunity. I spent a good amount of money and time in getting trained as a beautician and set up my own beauty salon. It created a sensation, mostly negative though.
There’s an adage in small towns: ‘Aurat hi aurat ki sabse badi dushman hoti hai (A woman is the biggest enemy of another woman)’. My mother-in-law and sisters-in-law gave me a mouthful at every possible occasion. Each day as I stepped out in the morning, they would say: ‘Gayi dhanda karen (There goes the prostitute).’
Besides, in a small town, even with a woman chief minister, people look down at women who opt to pay for looking good. A beautiful woman with makeup on, looking her best gorgeous self must be, as they say, ‘is looking for male attention and sex’. And a beautician is seen as facilitating women up on the immoral path. I have suffered taunts from older men that I am corrupting young girls. And young men think that a beauty salon is the best hunting ground for loose-character women, a pick up point for prostitutes.
There is little respect for a beautician in our small town society. My salon is the only woman-owned establishment in this market. Each morning, all eyes are on me as I open the shutters to my parlour. There are a few liquor shops across the road. Young men often stand idly outside my shop and each time a client moves in or steps out, their usual snide remark is: Sharab uss taraf, shabab iss taraf (Wine there, women here). However, my husband has shown complete faith in me and his love has kept me going. But I often question myself why can’t we (beauticians) be accorded the same respect that is given to makeup artists in big towns?
My worst times are when a sex racket or prostitution ring news breaks on TV channels where a beauty or massage parlour is involved. I can hear murmurs that my parlour too is a front for immoral trafficking. Nobody bothers about checking the facts. I open my parlour at 11 am in broad daylight and close it by 7 pm. I don’t even feel angry anymore, just tremendously sad at how low these men can stoop so low in their thinking.
At times, I along with my assistants get to work at a marriage home for bridal makeup. The money is good but your ordeal begins the moment you introduce to the family members. Often, an elderly member would ask about our caste. This feels so humiliating. Then, usually, there are payment hassles or the hazards of finding transport to reach back home as it always gets late in such occasions.
The only solace I find is in interacting with some educated women who come to my parlour. They speak of fresh ideas, the changing world and a well-behaved civil society. They have given me strength that I should raise my voice when the need be, but also learn to appreciate men when they are nice to us.
Currently, I wish to buy a ‘scooty’ for it will save me from a lot of hassles, and heartburn. It will save me from depending on others for being ferried around at odd hours and I can then just scoot out of any unwarranted situations at the slightest hint of danger!
(Name and location of the narrator have been changed on request)