Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 28, Tuesday February 21, 2006




Beauty in evolution

One of Dhaka's busiest beauty salons and it was the evening before a festival day. Imagine the scenario. It's like a nest of the honeybees, only the honey is missing. Modern gadgets that look like factory equipment, all sorts of liquids that resemble lab elements, alongside a blend of traditional ingredients like henna or neem paste and a touch of deftness of the beauty workers, all of these make a modern beauty salon. Shaping and reshaping appearances, giving the best trendy looks is the theme of the business, and women of all ages are simply craving for it.

Imagine the scenario 40 years ago: there were no beauty salons in Dhaka city. Before that our grandmothers or in some cases our mothers or aunts weren't very much used to all the terms that we know of today. All they had were henna or turmeric paste, rose water, neem leaves, and multani mitti, which was enough for them of course. These ingredients still exist. However; the modern arts and crafts of grooming have taken over. The scenario had changed gradually in the past three decades. Words like facial, threading, manicure, pedicure, rebonding and so on bubble around in the air when you enter a beauty salon.

The first beauty parlour in Dhaka with formal setting and crew was established in 1965. The name is May Fair and a Bangladeshi born Chinese woman Carmel Hsieh founded it.

Back then the Chinese women were the most interested parties in the business. In fact it was solely their trade. Hsieh, born and brought up in Bangladesh, was in her early 20s when she opened the salon. She only had a few Chinese women helping her. Before that some other Chinese women tried their hand in business at home. They did not have any formal setting of a parlour. One of them was Lucy L Lee. Later on Lee opened Hong Kong Beauty Parlour. May Fair, however, is the legendary salon that inspired many more women to join the business. It became the new-found hangout for an entire generation of women.

In the beginning Hsieh knew very little about local beauty traditions. She could not even do a traditional bun back then. Soon she had to learn all about it as her salon became popular among Bengali women. Hsieh migrated to Canada in the 1990s. This writer was lucky enough to have a chat with Carmel Hsieh as she was paying a short visit to her daughter Monica Hsieh, the person taking care of the salon now.

Hsieh remembers, “My first customers were foreigners living in Dhaka, even a few movie stars and singers used to visit my parlour. Later on, a few ladies from Dhaka's elite society became my regulars.” And that's that during those days. The average middle class were nowhere near the trend till the end of the '70s.

There was no Bangali salon up until 1977. In that year Zerina Asgar and her parlour Living Doll appeared on the scene. She is the first Bangladeshi woman to become a beautician and own a beauty salon. She was trained in Pakistan. The image of women we see today, the association of beauty in Bengali women was to some extent fashioned by this lady. The salon first opened at the Naya Paltan area but later on it changed location.

Asgar always preferred Bangali women as workers. Asgar recalls, “I remember all the beauty workers were Chinese. They all knew Bangla but hardly used it, which made me very uncomfortable.”

“I always hired Bangali girls. I wanted to see their faces. Today I am proud that they prevail in the scenario as beauticians”, she adds. Some of the second-generation beauticians including Kaniz Almas of Persona, is her direct student. Asgar is always attributed for her contribution in bringing Bangali women to the business.

She is also given credit for bringing the middle class to the parlour, “ When I first started, western styles were very popular. I remember some of my customers wanted to look like Jane Fonda”. Former movie queen Bobita and singer Runa Laila turned the heads of many women with their stylish haircut and trimmed, arch shaped eyebrows. “My customers were mostly wives of the army officers, movie stars and society women”, she says. She also remembers, “In the '80s the craze was Princess Diana's haircut among the urban women”.

After these three salons the beauty industry mushroomed. The middle class found their identity and the women belonging to the class started to enjoy the taste of grooming. By the mid 80s, trips to beauty salons became a regular affair for the urban women. And then came the VCR, the square black box that acquainted the ladies with the sex idols of Bollywood. Rekha, SriDevi and Dimple, became the living goddesses for many. The 80s was the decade when Bangali middle class women, especially the urban women, had a major fascination with Hindi film actresses. The images of women had a complete makeover. They built a permanent bond with beauty salons. Beauty parlours became shrines for many, where they tried to reproduce the appeal of the on-screen goddesses.

The 90s saw another new development, the satellite TV, which brought Bollywood to the doorsteps of every Bangali household. Zee TV, Star Plus, Sony and their soap queens overrun the scenario entirely. The image of women in Bangladesh, the whole hot new craze is sometimes a direct import from India. The trend still exists all around the country with many women wanting to look like Aishwarya, Rani or Karina.

The 90s also saw the arrival of several new faces, the second-generation beauticians like Farzana Shakil, Sadia Moyeen and Nahid- sophisticated, and educated in grooming. With all the latest gadgets and techniques, stunning décor and corporate environment in their outlets, this new generation has taken the beauty business to the next level. They've created a new definition for grooming. Once the hobby of a homemaker is now a complete profession.

By Shahnaz Parveen
Photo: Munem Wasif

By the way

Books are the best reminders of your heritage and culture. A trip to the Ekushey Boimela might be the perfect solution. Remember to pick up some for your children as well, to nurture their interest in Bangla Literature.

Under a different sky

By Iffat Nawaz

Ami Bangla Bhalobashi

I held a gun the other day. I learnt how to hold it with my right hand, and then lock it in with my left. My shoulders shook and my hands felt heavy as I aimed it towards my target; it took me a long time to be steady enough to shoot, but I did, 6 shots, two hit the head, two the chest, and two I missed. I put the gun down the way I was taught, a 38 caliber, right side up. The place smelled like ammunition, smoke, and I was still shaking.

When I held the gun, a flood of emotions conquered my mind. All my prejudged ideas that overpower that object, the gun, ran through my head. I wanted to run out of the shooting range, I couldn't believe I was trying shooting, but then I told myself, why not? It can be a form of a sport; it's a tool, a tool that can be used for both negative and positive - all the logic to calm my nerves.

When I walked out, and the bright sun still shone on my mid winter day, I was speechless. I wanted to talk to someone, but I felt like there was nothing I could say to express myself, my thoughts the right way. If I worded my sentences in Bangla and said the word “Bondhuk” it would sound more evil than saying gun. Another flood of emotions swallowed me, the conscience that comes out only when I think and speak in Bangla. Words and thoughts all just take a different meaning, a softer, sweeter one, it's not sharp with directness but sharp with harmony, a language that if not spoken the right way loses its virtue, to me one of the hardest languages to express aggression through, because it just is so sensitive, so easily skewed, and if done justice to, one of the most expressive languages in the world.

I realized I couldn't tell my gun shooting story to anyone in Bangla. I just wouldn't be able to, I would hate myself for it, I would hate the description, the person that I would have made myself out to be. I realized my mother tongue, Bangla, doesn't welcome violence. It doesn't cater to be spoken about harshness, the furthest it will go in a negative direction is to describe depression or melancholy, but any description of violence in Bangla is too harsh, too heart breaking, too unreal.

Someone once asked me whether when I dream, I dream in Bangla or English. Until that point I never wondered about such a thing, but I decided to search back through my dreams to figure this out. And the odd discovery came to me - I seem to dream in Bangla when the dreams are of subtle subjects and in English when the subjects are more harsh and I never hear someone speaking Bangla who is not supposed to, people don't switch from Bangla to English, my dreams expose both languages but never overlap one another. It's like two worlds that just won't collide.

There are so many Bangla phrases that I would die to translate but never dare to. I don't do justice to them, I don't even think Tagore did when he translated Gitanjoli and Gitobitan…the meanings, the aura, the beauty…it's something that's untouchable, and so hard to capture, only in the right context, with the right tone, right pronunciation, right setting.

So no, I couldn't speak about guns in Bangla, I couldn't accept my border lining pro-violence hobby in my mother tongue. I understand though, why people gave lives for this language…I think it was to prevent the effect of violence from ever touching the tenderness and purity of Bangla. With those sacrifices Bangla is now the language of love…and with love I can always say…ami Bangla Bhalobashi…


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