“In 1975, as a newly-married bride when I migrated to India from Malaysia, out of hundreds of gifts which I had received from friends and relatives, I had brought only a single gift with me — and it was an oven, which I still have with me. My husband laughed. What are you going to do with this? Do you even know how to bake?”
By Sujata Rajpal
I could only smile at that. I have inherited my passion for baking from my mother. I started baking for the pure fun of it. Choosing a design, the shape, deciding the right ingredients, watching the cake rise, decorating it…, I love every bit of it. The first recognition for my baking skills came when for my son’s first birthday, I baked a cake in the shape of a fort. The guests appreciated it a lot and I started baking for friends and relatives. I never charged them, it was for my own happiness. Little did I realise that I was actually taking baby steps towards a rewarding career? Not career, but careers,” the beautician-turned-baker Zerina Imthiaz corrects herself.
When the budding baker was ready to take orders, she approached Kings Kourt Hotel as she wanted to open a cake shop.
“Bakery will not run in Mysore, start a beauty salon instead,” L. Vivekananda, the owner of Kings Kourt advised.
“Beauty salon ! I know nothing about it…” I turned towards my husband Imthiaz, who has stood behind me like a rock all through my journey.
“So learn it,” he said coolly.
Not to waste any time, Zerina left for Malaysia and returned after three months. Armed with beauty training from a reputed trainer and the fire in her belly, Classic Beauty Parlour was started in 1980 in the premises of Kings Kourt. The name was also suggested by Vivekananda who is responsible for steering me towards being a beauty therapist. It functioned from the premises of Kings Kourt for 14 years before it was shifted to Yadavagiri, near Akashvani Circle. Classic Beauty Parlour (now closed) was one of the first few parlours in Mysore.
It must be a real challenge to open a beauty salon in Mysore in 1980, I ask.
Zerina thinks for a moment before answering, “Though I started the salon with a lot of enthusiasm, the initial response was anything but encouraging. Initially only a few women walked in for eyebrows, hair trimming and other small jobs with clear instructions to me that it should not make any difference to their looks lest the mother or the mother-in-law comes to know about the visit to a beauty parlour. Those times were different. Now every age, every occasion calls for a quick visit to the beauty parlour.”
I can’t conceal a smile. It is obviously good for your business. Isn’t it?
“No, it is not good for me,” says the gritty woman, her voice firm. “I am against very young boys and girls going in for all sorts of beauty treatments. I used to blatantly refuse kids who would come to me to get their hair coloured, face bleached and other treatments involving chemicals.”
The obsession with looking good is nothing but our obsession with social media. We want to look nice because people are going to see the pictures. You are not good if you are not picture-worthy. As an afterthought she adds, “Beauty products (of course, not for young children) are also necessary to some extent due to change in environment and increase in stress levels. Our mothers never needed a facial or a sun screen lotion because they stayed indoors most of the day, did physical work which gave them a natural glow due to increase in blood circulation but nowadays women go out in the hot sun; dust and grime make it essential for them to use good beauty products. My beauty business helped me meet so many people and I also learnt Kannada.”
The market is full of high quality beauty products but there is no comparison to home-made products. They are still the best, believes the woman who was instrumental in starting Mysore District Beautician and Beauty Parlour Owners Association (MDBBPOA).
MDBBPOA is aimed at bringing all beauty parlours under a single umbrella. The objective is to educate the beauticians in the latest beauty treatments and theories. It not only serves as a platform to address common challenges but a great learning and bonding medium too. In spite of competing against each other, we are aware of the power of unity. Zerina, who has been the President of MDBBPOA for 15 years, is now an Honorary Advisor to the Association. “It feels good when beauticians still come to me for advice,” she beams.
“And it gives me immense happiness when women who attended my beauty classes open their own salons. Seeing women doing well for themselves both financially and emotionally gives me the biggest high. The future belongs to women,” adds Zerina, her big eyes glowing with genuine joy.
“As an advocate for women empowerment, I hire only women. My husband who helps me in the restaurant is the only male here,” she chuckles. One of her employees has been working for her since 25 years and another for 17 years.
Zerina ran her parlour for 35 years before calling it a day. Classic Beauty Parlour was closed three years ago. “I couldn’t pay attention to both the businesses. My cake shop Toot – C was doing very well. So I had to choose between the two. Toot-C was started second but it was my first love. Though I am both a trained beautician and a trained baker, I would like to call myself a baker if I have to choose only one.”
Until a few years ago, Zerina Imthiaz was running two businesses simultaneously. How did you manage to run both the businesses together, that too successfully? I shoot my next question.
“Even though footfalls at parlour had picked up, my obsession with starting my own cake shop continued. In 1988, eight years after I ventured into beauty business, Toot-C was started in Yadavagiri (near Akashvani). It was not just a cake shop but a small restaurant. It had fast food including burgers, Chinese and cakes,” she said.
“Baking continues to be my passion. Even today I am still hands-on. I am involved in designing, baking, presentation and everything else that it takes to bake a cake. The advancement in technology has made it easier for professionals like us to travel and yet stay connected to day-to-day business challenges,” says the baker as she shows me the pictures of cakes sent by her staff on WhatsApp.
“People in Mysuru don’t want to try new flavours. Black forest is still the most popular. We use natural products as far as possible,” she adds.
Talking about growing demand for bakery products, Zerina says, these days there are a lot of home-grown bakers, housewives who either self-train themselves or learn it professionally, start as a cottage industry. They are very talented and quickly pick up the market skills which are essential for any business.
A phone call interrupts our conversation… “See I am going back to where I started,” says Zerina when the call by her only son Vazeeq Madhar, who works in Bermuda, ends
“I started Toot-C with bakery items, fast food and Chinese but later when my Chinese cook left, I closed everything else and retained only the cakes and pastries. Today the cook has come back and I am opening a full-fledged restaurant.” Toot-C is now situated bang opposite Nirmala Convent (Gokulam-VV Mohalla junction).