Ruby Biswas – my mother – has been interviewed for her beauty expertise many a times. But what I wish to share here is the journey that she has made to reach where she is today.
My mother got married at the age of 18. From a small, nuclear family in Jamshedpur, she suddenly found herself in a humungous, traditional joint family in north Calcutta. I call it “humungous” because that’s what we are. My grandparents had 14 children and my father is the youngest son. Naturally, my mother would be lost and terrified when caught between the cross fires of warring siblings and sister-in-laws. My grandmother kept her under her wings and guarded her, but it was a struggle for her to adjust to the family. She completed her graduation after her marriage and then continued to be a good homemaker and mother. Slowly the joint family extended on to become smaller nuclear families and the huge ancestral home suddenly became vacant. My sister and I were in school then and my mother had enough time and space to nurture her dreams, and she did what no woman in our family had ever done before. She decided to start her own business. And as if that was not enough she opened a salon!
This of course, attracted a lot of criticism. People spoke ill of her, sometimes called her names and even raised questions on what we – my sister and I – would grow up to be. My father supported her unconditionally and my mother never faltered. With a single minded dedication and determination, she worked with honesty and sincerity to build Saajo – a salon where women come to not just dress up and look beautiful but also to share their lives with my mother. I have often seen women come to her for skin issues and open up about their personal lives. Ma has heard them out and given them the confidence to go back home smiling. I have seen her at her work for more than 30 years and the one thing that has remained constant is her eagerness to learn new things. All through these years she has continued to study and acquire knowledge in beauty and makeup from wherever she can. Whenever she has travelled on a holiday with my father, she has taken out time to do some course or the other. This seeking spirit has been well-inherited by me and my sister. From Ma, we have both learned to keep learning all the time.
This was a brief summing up of her background, now what follows is a candid conversation between me and Ma. Please note, this is not a conversation that happened in a day. It is compilation of our chats and interactions over the years.
What was Ma’s first encounter with makeup?
She has often narrated this incident to us, and with a sense of achievement. So the story goes like this: after her marriage got fixed, she was going out for shopping with an aunt. Ma thought that now she was old enough to dress the way she wanted and went ahead and applied a lipstick. However, the moment she stepped out, my Didu (maternal grandmother) gave her a tight slap! Ma often muses that the lipstick for which she was once slapped is what now helps her live her dream. Later of course my Didu was very proud of her daughter’s achievement and my mother never lost an opportunity to remind Didu of that fateful day. Moral of the story: Never give up on your dreams and even if no one believes in you today, there will be a day when they will.
Who has been the biggest support in her life?
I put this question in deliberately, while writing this piece as I wanted her to admit it. She and my father, fight like Tom and Jerry but have been supporting each other through thick and thin. So when I put this question to her, she has no choice but to happily admit that it has been my gentle father who has cheered her along always. With the society and relatives criticising her for her choice of career, it was a tough stand that my father took. He didn’t go around defending her but he just silently stood by her like a rock, making it clear to one and all that he believed in her no matter what. My lesson learnt: Love needn’t be a public display of emotions.
What was her darkest phase in her career?
It is difficult for her to pick “one” phase. Her career and life has been full of challenges. She doesn’t see them as “dark phases” but as hurdles that will keep coming and which she will have to continue to overcome. However, her most stressful times are the month before the Durga Puja, the most important festival of Bengalis and a very crucial month in the business. It’s been years but she has those same jitters, stress, nervousness and excitement that she had when she started off. Sometimes she drives us all up the wall with her constant worry but it’s understandable when you know how each and everything that she does for Saajo is done with the passion of a mother. The salon is not just a business for her. It’s like her third child. Lesson learnt: Challenges will always be there, just keep your passion burning and it will see you through the end of the tunnel.
What aspect of her work gives her the greatest satisfaction?
I have seen Ma put her life and soul into each bride that she dresses up. And there are days when she does about 10-12 bridal makeups. Many a times I have seen a simple girl walk in to Saajo and tentatively take her seat on the makeup chair but after four hours the woman that I see is no less than a goddess. The joy that is evident in the girl’s face reflects on Ma’s smile. That’s the most beautiful smile that she has. A smile of great satisfaction. Moral of the story: Do what you do with complete dedication and genuineness, then you will have nothing to regret.
Who does she consider to be her mentor?
My mother was much influenced by work of the famous Bengali artist Gosto Kumar. Her bridal makeup draws influences from Kumar’s style of work. However, the person who she credits for shaping her career is Mrs Threty Irani, who is a pioneer of the beauty industry in Calcutta. Lesson learnt: Never forget your teachers.
Her favourite beauty product?
Ma is a thorough makup junkie. If there’s a colour cosmetic at hand, she will try it but she is hard to please and she is a loyalist. Her criticism is scathing and hence I am always careful before presenting my Jhelum Loves blends to her. When I asked her this question, I hoped she would have mentioned one of my creations, but she chose Clinique Eyeliner gel instead. I admit it is something that I love as well. My take-home from this response: I steal her gel liner every time I go to Calcutta.
Her biggest achievement?
Oh, finally, finally she says it – “my two daughters”. She says she is proud of the way we have grown up to be. And just when I am feeling happy to have got my mother to compliment without an attachment, she calls up and says, “No, no, my biggest achievement is Saajo! How can I forget that? Of course, you two but I am proud of what I have done with Saajo.” Yes, Mother, we are also very proud of you for what you have achieved and love you for who you are. Lesson learnt: She is a Bengali mother. Always will keep pushing her children to do more.