When The Wall Street Journal did a big story on Shahnaz Husain last year we kicked ourselves. Why hadn’t we ever thought of profiling the lioness with the other-worldly burgundy mane that drank 16 egg whites, olive oil and lemon juice (twice a week), we wondered.

The Journal reminded us that Husain’s empire snaked through 300 salon franchises, 53 beauty schools, 3,000 employees and two dozen product lines sold through 150,000 stores in India. And that was last year. Husain’s updated backgrounder states that her company operates in more than 100 countries.

In my 20s I loved the smell of Shahnaz Husain products, especially the ones that used flowers. Shamoist, my favourite Shahnaz Husain moisturizer that’s perfect for a dry Delhi winter, was apparently created for Indira Gandhi.

Glow girl: Shahnaz Husain (right) says Indira Gandhi was her friend.

I know this story because recently, Husain’s PR machinery sent me a long essay on Gandhi by the lady and asked if I wanted to meet the Princess, as she is known. They also emailed me a list of “prestigious global awards" that Husain has won recently—The Asian Woman Power 100 award, the Leonardo Da Vinci Diamond Award, the World Medal of Freedom, the International Star Award for Quality 2009 and whatnot.

Husain’s success as an Ayurvedic entrepreneur is indisputable but, somehow, in my 30s I’ve drifted more towards brands such as Forest Essentials (my favourite Indian beauty brand), Body Shop and Clinique. I can’t even remember the last time I bought a bottle of hair oil from Husain’s Flower Power range.

Yet, I guess all the news about Husain registered somewhere because earlier this week, I decided I had to try a Shahnaz Husain salon, something I had never done before. A 26-year-old colleague says that by the time she reached parlour-going age, it was no longer cool to go to an SH salon.

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The rickety steps in the heart of a Delhi market led to a battered all-white room that looked mouldy and deserted except for one client getting her hair done. She turned out to be the supervisor and, when I asked for a facial, she insisted I opt for the Diamond facial (at Rs4,000, it was the most expensive). After a repeated no thanks, she finally suggested the Pearl Facial (Rs1,500). I told her that her beautician was recommending another one, but she insisted that the Pearl would be perfect for me.

The facial room was dirty and messy, the bedsheet stained. The window was open and sounds from the noisy marketplace strode into the room. Run now, all my senses screamed, but I smelt a good story.

Of course, it turned out to be a horror story. The beautician massaged my face (and for some unfathomable reason, my breasts) with the vigour that one usually reserves for scrubbing a pan that has been used to brew masala chai. When she applied the Pearl gook, my face was on fire. Don’t worry, it will get better, she said. Take it off NOW, I yelped. I told you not to pick the Pearl, she said, before wiping it off and switching to another facial. The supervisor doesn’t know anything about the facials, she added. Later, she applied a pleasant-smelling cooling mask, but when I inquired what it was, she said it was made of lotus flowers and great for “whitening".

Unbelievably, the Shahnaz Husain machinery had made this anti-whitening warrior use a whitening product. I don’t think I can ever forgive her for that.

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