Flame by Nelofer Currimbhoy – Book Review
An indulgent daughter sits down to write the story, Flame, of her incredible mother. A mother who is only about 16 years older to her making her, more of a friend. A mother who is a role model and a free spirit. First of all, the evocative narrative of Nelofer impresses me. Especially when she writes about the early years of her mother. She re-creates the life of rich and famous around and just after independence. Though the author of Flame has very skillfully avoided dates and maintained an aura around the age of her Diva mother. Her story before she actually began the business of beauty products is like a story that you want to go on and on. It has romance, it has suspense, it has nostalgia and it has the thrill.
I was pleasantly surprised to know that Shahnaz Husain actually comes from two aristocratic families of Hyderabad. And the Nizam himself arranged the marriage of her grandparents. She was also born here. And her parents settled here in Banjara Hills after their retirement. That is where in their house she started researching for the traditional remedies for hair and skin problems. She even named her daughter Nelofer, the author of this book after the princess of Hyderabad.
Shahnaz Husain wears a mystery around herself. As someone who is always dressed up for the occasion, as someone who embodies what she recommends to her clientele. Has her daughter demystified Shahnaz Husain, by writing her biography? Well, she has opened some windows of her life so that some more lights shine on her so that she shimmers some more in the admirer’s new knowledge of her. Nelofer makes her mother stand taller as she paints her a determined woman who always believed in defining her own destiny. But yet remained absolutely rooted in the traditions of her family. Someone who defined a whole new industry single-handedly. Someone who rubbed shoulders with the who’s who of India. And someone who had clients likes of Indira Gandhi.
Yet someone who refused to go to parties without her husband or dance with anyone except him. She lived around the world. Inducted her daughter into the business early on. But would not allow her to meet her fiancé alone before marriage. She talks about how the business grew from one salon to a huge factory. And many more franchise salons most of which are managed by the women. She talks about the luxurious lifestyle of the family when living in upcoming Greater Kailash area of Delhi was akin to being poor or short on finances for them. She nostalgically describes each of the houses Shahnaz Husain has lived in and how they were all an extension of her.
Nelofer displays a fair flare for the language. All through the book as she talks indulgently about her mother. Sometimes she writes as a daughter and calls her Mum. And sometimes she takes the third person narrative and calls her Shahnaz. But that really does not stand between the flow of the narrative. What I found missing was that all the rough edges of her life were completely smoothened. No negatives are mentioned and even when they are, they are given a positive spin. Any public life has its brush with downs and challenges. Removing them from the life narrative makes it look incomplete. There is a fair amount of name throwing, about whom all is the family related to, who are the friends and clients.
This is like a fairy tale memoirs of a woman born with a silver spoon. Who decided to take responsibility for her own life and define it not only for herself but for her children, fellow women, and an ancient Indian science. In my opinion, she is a trendsetter whose story needed to be told so that others can be inspired. It is a fair mix of personal and business biography. I would hope to see a detailed business biography of Shahnaz Herbals as they have done quite a few incredible things and have broken established norms of the industry like building a brand without advertising.
Read Flame, especially if you like biographies and if the persona of the protagonist intrigues you.