Flame: The Story Of My Mother Shahnaz Husain

Nelofar Currimbhoy’s Flame is an unabashed ode to her mother, the remarkable icon of the herbal beauty business - Shahnaz Husain.

Nelofar Currimbhoy’s Flame is an unabashed ode to her mother, the remarkable icon of the herbal beauty business – Shahnaz Husain.

Review by Maitreyee Chowdhury

She has flaming red hair. The resplendent hue is striking to the eye and goes well with her personality. Flame is clearly not an author’s, but a daughter’s tribute to her mother, Shahnaz Husain, whom she idolizes. For most part of the narrative, the author goes on about her lineage, with more than passing references to universities her grandfather went to or the grand hotels they dined in, or even the entourage of servants who dovetailed them everywhere. The unmistakable emphasis on Shahnaz’s grandeur is reiterated time and again and becomes predictable at times. 

And yet, the book is perhaps more. It is the story of an icon, the woman who is Shahnaz Husain, who with her flair, charm and natural business sense is inspirational and invigorating to millions of women; women, who are trapped in traditional lifestyles and hanker for “freedom” to pursue their dreams, which go beyond the realms of marital bliss and child-raising. More importantly it is an important book to any woman who seeks to achieve that near impossible balance of home and work and being able to maintain both amicably.

One wishes that Nelofar Currimbhoy, who has some trappings of a writer, had done better justice to what could have been an interesting biography, instead of letting it peter out into a eulogy of sorts. But I must add that despite its failings as a biography, the book scores in areas that highlight several personal anecdotes throughout the icon’s life. The intriguing little stories behind some of ‘Shahnaz Herbal’s’ unique products, like the making of ‘Shamoist’, a moisturizer that came about on the insistence of erstwhile Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the childhood ride with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, or the story of the brand establishing itself on the shelves of Selfridges & Co, would be of great interest to ardent followers of the lady.

Globally, the 60s and 70s generation experienced heady days. Immediately after the world war had ravaged most economies, countries had finally scampered back to some sort of stability. This was the age of rebellious youth, an age which reflected a certain disdain in attitude and culture. The book throws a brief insight into that period and the rebel that Shanaz Husain always was.

The book is replete with intensely personal moments of both joy and anguish that Shahnaz the woman went through. The loss of her father (her hero), her husband (her anchor) and finally her son give insights into a woman who has seen immense tragedy along with success. Apart from charting the life of an extraordinary woman, who began her journey as an untutored, spirited girl married off at the age of sixteen, the book is essentially about upholding one’s belief in one’s dreams. In fact Nelofar’s high point in the book is undoubtedly the moment when she sums up, who or what the essence of the one person industry Shahnaz Husain is: “We are all born to desire youthful looks. We seek them as we seek immortality; preserving and holding on to the present is intrinsic to human nature.”

The book has its moments.

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Publishers: Hachette India

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