I had the good fortune of interviewing Nelofar Currimbhoy after reading her book, “Flame” based on her Mother Shahnaz Husain’s life. Here is the interview for you to enjoy.
1. Why write a biography? Why not a story may be or something fictional?
Writing for me has been a passion as far as I can think back. I once wrote a 60 page poem ‘Eyes of the Healer’ and got it read by Darley Anderson , the well known British agent. He wrote back to say that , there was no doubt that there was talent but I should write prose because it was salable. Somehow the salability aspect of writing seemed like sacrilege and I still love my poetry. Why not a fiction ? Well I guess sometimes things take a life of their own. My mother and I happened to be at Barista when my she went to the little book shop they had started and came back with a copy of Gulzar’s biography by his daughter. When I opened it, it said ‘Promise me , you will write a book on me.’ For years she had been the audience for my writing and was convinced that I was the best person to write her story. I have written twelve thousand words of my first fiction novel and I am very excited about it. It’s an exotic romance, a saga. Ideally it should have come before the biography because it would keep the focus on my writing and not the subject. On the other hand the response from serious readers to the quality of my writing has given me -a first time writer- a thumbs up that’s propelled my enthusiasm a great deal. Many books to come from this pen, or should I say computer.
2. What inspired you to write this book?
My mothers life , in fact her ability to defy life and change every negative event that came her way into a challenge that had to be overcome was the sort of inspirational story that had to be told. I see this book as a self help book in the form of a life story that will inspire and encourage those that read it. Many women and men too will identify with it. Struggle is not gender specific and we all dream of success and fame. Here is the story of a girl born to a traditional Muslim family , married at 16 , she had her first child in the year and went on to become an iconic figure.
On the professional front her ability to stay ahead of her competition without advertising, her faith in the all Indian Dream of Ayurveda as a way of life and her astute and instinctive decision to market this science at a time when it was taken as outdated and old fashioned will make this book an interesting read for every dreamer who dares to dream the almost impossible.
I have walked her journey with her, and seen her life unfold like a saga of a story book and all I can say is that this story was worth telling.
3. Beauty is only skin-deep. Is that true? Do you believe in it?
Not at all. It starts with the heart , the goodness of soul shows in the eyes. A good nights sleep and a diet of fruits shows on the skin much more than any beauty product can. A beauty routine is a good addition to a healthy life style and above all a mind at peace.
4. How much of an inspiration has Shahnaz Husain been to you? If you had to name 3 character traits that you would want of hers, which ones would they be?
I have always maintained that no two people can be as different as my mum and me. She is fiery and passionate , I am calm and serene , she works best around a lot of people and noise , I am methodical and enjoy my space. Yet I have indeed been inspired by her in many . Her family values and her ability to find self expression without undermining the importance of her marriage is something I respect and endorse for all people. It is an aspect that is going to become more relevant by the day when the pressure of urban life is becoming oppressive and couples opt out too quickly. I would always like to hold the family values that she has taught me as sacred in my life.
Her ability to change the course of her destiny when its almost staring at her in her face and her desire to enjoy life to the level of making every moment lived a celebratory event are qualities I would love to keep for myself too.
5. How difficult is it to differentiate personal life from professional especially in a profession like yours when the borderline is too thin?
In my mothers life there is no separation between personal life and professional life. She lives and breathes her work every moment. If she is at coffee shop she is signing autographs. When she is shopping she is approached by people who want to ask her about a beauty issue. She never turns them back. I am sure she even dreams of her work.
As for me I am the other limit. I keep all media interviews away from my home. Home to me is sacred and a place for family and friends.I believe in privacy as the most essential aspect to keep my life and those near me functional. My children were never allowed to be photographed so they would grow up level headed. If I am out and recognized as my mothers daughter I find it awkward and an intrusion. I work meticulously , but only from my office table and when I come home I am mum and wife. I think my mum and I are best friends because we are perfect foils to each other.
6. Nelofar as a person…
Can a person judge themselves fairly. Its not an easy question to answer. Okay ! Here I go , giving it a try. I love nature and the outdoors. I am quite hung up on good values and principles. I feel that good work ethics in a company is a purifying experience. If I sound boring , I am not. I laugh a lot. I find things funny quite easily and I have sense of humour that I think is quick enough ! Well the rest is for someone to say when they write a book on me. Who knows ?
7. If not beauty therapy, then what profession would you be in and why?
I could be so many things. But within my circumstances I would still like to expand myself to experience something beyond, follow my bliss for a while and write many more books. I believe that we need to extend our vision to the maximum, to touch, feel, celebrate the entire universe if one can. I don’t believe in remaining trapped in a tight environment. Prisons are often of different kinds, not always concrete and sometimes we build them around ourselves. There is too much happening in the world and life’s opportunitiy can’t be a missed experience.
I was first introduced to social work by a precious friend, Ms. Jetsun Pema, His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s sister and since my training centres for women have become a rewarding part of my life. Apart for my contribution to Shahnaz Herbals, I would like to be known as someone who made a difference to people’s lives.
8. What does success mean to you?
Sleeping at night with the belief that I did my best and that I have retained a clear conscious about what ever I did.
9. Nelofar the writer….
As a writer I am completely influenced by my childhood hero John Keats. A story needs to be seen , felt , tasted and touched. Your words must be palpable. The reader must walk the journey with you, you have to take him along . One cant be a distant narrator but an up close and personal voice that rings within you. That is my idea of writing and I believe – from those who have read my book – that I have achieved that in Flame.
You can buy the book, “Flame” on Flipkart on this link:
Buy Flame: The Story of My Mother Shahnaz Husain from Flipkart.com