The “Blush Inn” Family

While scratching the hot wax off her nails and some parts of the elbow, she kept staring at me with a curiosity that was very vivid through her eyes. She uttered, after a long pause, “Aap kuch nhi karwayengy?”, nodding in negative I started observing the atmosphere of the beauty parlor that my mother had taken me to along with her to get her eye brows fixed. The place seemed like a nice little room, a little congested but well equipped with all the material that needs to be there in a beauty parlor. As soon as one enters, to the left is a kept a table and two long legged chairs which were not really comfortable to sit on but did go very well with the entire setting of the rest of the furniture in the room. A revolving chair is kept on the other side of the table for “Bhabhi” to sit on and deal with the customers coming to the parlor. Bhabhi, as all the clients and most of the customers call her, seemed like a woman in her forties or late forties probably and brings in that aura of orderliness into that place which an owner of a beauty parlor should definitely have. Bhabhi gives that vibe that she will do anything to keep this small scale business running; whether it be covering the stupidity or professional flaws among the workers or persuading the client into getting those services which cost a little higher than usual. Bhabhi, at the end of the day, makes sure that the client goes back satisfied with the services provided no matter if that even takes longer than their usual working hours; which according to her is the most difficult thing to do in this business.

The picture shows the earrings stall that has been kept there for seemingly no purpose at all.

At an arm’s length of where Bhabhi sits, a little stand with different sets of earrings is displayed. What is surprising about that is they have been there for a long time now; most of the earrings have not been sold thou they are meant to. Intriguing as it was, I asked Bhabhi the price for one of them, Rs. 300 she told me. That is when I got the answer that kept running in the back of my head, thou 300 rupees these days are not that much but if one could get an equally pretty looking set of earrings from Sunday Bazaar, Meenaa Bazaar or Aladdin for a hundred only; the latter I believe is going to be chosen by many. While in the thought, I got asked yet another time by the same worker who had been noticing me, the same question. This time it went like, “Aap ko kuch nhi karwana? Aap bhi eye brows banwa lein, ye hamari Saima ka hath both saaf hai” which to me was not very weird because this is a usual practice in beauty parlors, especially the ones that are a little low scale based; they keep asking you one way or the other to take either of the services because of course it adds up to more profit. Getting back to observing the place, I could now smell the melting hot wax, notice the dimming and brightening of one of the tube lights which seemed like as if it was going to burst into flames any moment. To the extreme right of the room or as it looked like was a cream white curtain spread wide enough to cover whatever there was behind it. Out of curiosity I asked one of the workers if they had a bathroom in the parlor, one of them pointed towards the same big curtain had been my centre of attention for the past few minutes. So, behind the mighty curtain was actually a changing room where the workers kept their abayas and other personal stuff and to the left was a little door which had patches of yellowish white paint coming off from the edges. The door lead to the washroom which was very small only enough for one person to fit in but it was kept clean enough that it seemed usable even if just for emergency purposes.

Drawing the curtain aside, as I stood at the extreme right of the room something caught my attention that made me walk to extreme left which was the entrance and actually out of the parlor. The workers had been noticing my keen observing ways, so not to make them feel like they were being spied on I came out to get some fresh air. Their certain behavior and reactions towards my observation gave an idea that if Bhabhi herself is not much cautious of any new client that comes to her parlor, the workers for sure were. Now, the interior design of the room as I had seen from the left side was to be observed from the entrance as well since it gave more space to observe it that way. As soon as I went in again, I saw a visible division of the room, to one side were these chairs with mirrors in front of them and a yellow light on top of each while the other had couches for people to sit and wait in case the place is overcrowded such that in cases of Chaand Raat. As told by Bhabhi, the interior of the room had been done by a relative of hers and it has been the same way for the a fairly long period of time since it is the best way a room of this size could be accommodated for the purpose. By this time I had decided to get s service or two as well because it would give me a chance to converse with the workers and know about their experience. I went to the same lady who had been noticing me for a while now and asked her to fix my eyebrows, her name she told me was Aashnaa and she had been working there for the last 7-8 years. Aashnaa, as she described herself was the eldest of the seven sisters and a brother that she had, a workaholic who had studied till Matric and then learnt the skills that helped her get a job there in. All that she said, one way or another, portrayed how despite of her being a workaholic she was very much tired of working long hours and wanted a good long sleep. It was the poor conditions of her household where her brother and a sister who had pretty decent occupations had lost their jobs and the father’s pension was good for nothing that kept her going as she uttered in sigh “ Aurtoun ke liye baahir nikal kar kamana or acha kamana bohat mushkil hai, izzat ka khayal alag rakhna parta hai”. Around fifteen thousand rupees were not enough to run a household of 9 people, she stated and to which I completely agreed in sympathy. Though sympathy is not what she wanted as she uttered, “Per job hi hai, Shukar ada karna chahye, or nhi tou kia, or bhi buray halaat hotey tou hum kia karlete, haath pair salaamat hain, kama sakti hu, shukar hai”. These words were quite enough for me to re-evaluate a lot of ideals and values that I have been leading my life by. While I was getting my eye brows fixed, I got a cut on my skin which made Aashnaa very embarrassed and she backed off for a few seconds, this was when I told her that my skin is very sensitive and this usually happens so it was okay. As soon as she got done and handed me a small mirror to see if I was satisfied with how she had shaped them, she uttered, “Aap jese clients ki waja se hi hum beemaar bhi houn tou kaam pe aajatay hain, kuch loug tou zara si ghalti per itna zaleel kardete hain ke maafi maangne ka bhi dil nhi karta”. This again was an eye opener to what these women who work in a low scaled business have to go through. What is ironic is that it is not only the men who defame them for their “izzat” but also the women who think it is their birth right to demean people like these who are probably not going to utter a word back; first, because they might have done a mistake and second because they need the money.

As I got done with my services, I sat near the reception counter where Bhabhi sits. She kept clearing the table and was checking something on her phone which seemed to me as if she was trying her best to give an impression that she is a busy person. All that time there, Bhabhi did not really stand up from the counter but kept scanning the place every now and then. Upon being asked about her experience as the owner and mentor, she had all the positive responses which was not surprising because Bhabhi is very concerned for the good name of the parlor. As I had already observed the treatment with clients so I started asking Bhabhi about her personal and work life. This was when she uttered, “Beta, hum jis muashray se taa’luq rakhtey hain wahan bohat zyada professional honay ko bhi ghalat hi samjha jata hai, family ko to tarjeeh deni parti hai. Halaan’ke mein apne ghar waaloun ko support karne ke liye hi ye sb kar rhi hun lekin agar iski waja se ghar mein kuch masla ho tou baat Aurat per hi aati hai”. What Bhabhi mentioned was yet another insight to the struggles of working women in a Pakistani society.

After paying for the services, I got to know that Bhabhi’s real name is Rizwana and everyone calls her Bhabhi out of respect. When my mother did the same, it made me realized how that was yet another example of how many things function in our society where we tend to do something because the majority does it or it is just very difficult to go the other way around. As I got out of the parlor I saw a man sitting on a chair next to the door who was not there when we came in. The board reading the name of the parlor was much clear now as it was dark and the board was lit in white with “Blush Inn Beauty Parlor” written over it in bold blue letters. On our way back, many thoughts clustered in my mind as to how there is so much to be thought about before a woman in a desi, developing and seemingly urbanized society steps out of the house to work. A distinction could be seen among the thoughts of that of Bhabhi and Aashnaa. Bhabhi, one could tell was from a well-off middle class family if not much affluent as she had mentioned that her son had gone to London for getting a Master’s degree. Whereas Aashnaa as she uttered, “Paisa tou phir aaj ki zaroorat haina” portrayed that she belonged to a much lower socio-economic class. What intrigued me and many question in my head was that it is very generalized when we say that “ Aurtoun ke liye kaam karna bohat mushkil hai” because seeing two working women in the place, one socially and financially much stable than the other contradicted with the very notion that it is the gender that makes it difficult for women to go out and work. From what I had seen, though it was a small scale business but it portrayed that many factors are there which make it difficult for women to work and make money; the socio-economic statuses, the privileges attached to them and the societal distinctions brought about being a few of those factors.