It would be incorrect to presume that men don't feel uncomfortable when their woman earns more. Or has a more powerful job than her man. In traditional relationships especially in our country a man tends to feel very uncomfortable, even threatened. There are definitely adjustment issues. Can you imagine a woman who puts in a fourteen hour day at work doing the laundry? Roles have to then be redistributed and yet few men would take kindly to that .
When Shenaaz Husain, pioneer entrepreneur in the world of herbal beauty built an empire, she had to do a lot to ensure that her relationship and work stayed harmonious. Especially since the route up had not been easy.
Shenaaz was not educated enough to get a job, and with a great struggle set up her first beauty salon in her own house. The plus side was that since then she has always there for her husband and family- career came second. “Working from home proved advantageous-I was always there when they needed me. My husband gradually became involved in my business. He sacrificed much for me, so much so that he resigned from government service to be with me.”
Success came with a price however “When my business grew and I was travelling abroad frequently, I realized that my time was not my own. I remember an incident when my young son who I had left in Delhi had high fever. As a mother, I wanted to catch the next flight home and be with him, but in terms of my commitments and I had no option but to fulfil them. My mind was not on my work, or the different cities I had to visit to open salons but, I could not go back on my commitments. I had the world at my feet, but I was longing to go back to my son-I realized then that you should not compromise your values for work alone.
Shenaaz ensured that she would not allow her success to come in the way of her relationship very early in the game, “I made it a point to spend quality time with my husband, going to our herb farm on weekends together as a family, which enstrengthens bonds and brings a family closer. Even today, I like nothing better than unwind with my family, go out for coffee together, or to dinner, catching up with each other.”
Shenaaz gradually became more famous than her spouse, and yet she managed the ego of her man and has a successful career and a successful personal life. How did she have a balance of work, career, marriage, children. “Behind every successful woman, there is a wonderful, understanding and loving man, who respects his wife’s right to be successful. We had a role reversal of sorts. I conspired to involve my husband more in my work so that I was the face of the enterprise, but his value his contribution in building up the business was greater, specially the international business.” Shenaaz realized that she had to work around her husbands ego to ensure there were no hurt feelings.
“There was no ego clash at all. But it came at a price! I always kept myself in the background and attributed all my success to him. I always claimed that I was totally dependent on his help, advice and support. He actually took leave and lived in London, to be with me when I went to study beauty at Rubinstein. He was like my pillar of strength.”
Shenaaz realized that she must ensure that her husband didn’t feel he was walking behind her “I trained myself to stay behind him. Any program, or any major or minor decision I would leave to him and follow his advice. The children were also told “ask your father…do as he says.” He was always the lord and master. On his part he was always there for me, goading me on to scale impossible heights.
“If I was invited as Chief Guest, I would insist that he sits beside me. If I was asked a serious question even by the press, I would say, “It depends on my husband. He will decide.” Yes, I could have taken the decision but I was extra cautious to take his advice.”:
In Paris, the Editor of La Nouvelle Esthetique asked Mr Husain if Shenaaz’s success and public adulation embarrassed him, or made him feel second to her in any way. He answered “I am never embarrassed by her fame and phenomenal success because I was part of creating the phenomenon she is today.” When asked, what exactly his role was, he said, “Just holding the fort. We built it together and that’s a full time job!”
“The way a creeper climbs on a rock and smothers with fragrance and beauty the very rock it covers…..the same way, a woman with a full time career can prove to her husband that without his support she can never climb the ladder of success, or reach the dizzy heights of fame. As a wife, I was have always been very careful to acknowledge him and acknowledge that he was the pivot on which my world rotated. Yes it was a tight rope walk. It was not easy, but I managed . He knew it and loved me for it. That was the secret of my phenomenal fairy tale life.
The law of nature is that the man is the breadwinner. That has been the biological conditioning. When you reverse the law, there can be a violent emotional explosion! Like a pressure cooker, your world can simmer and even explode and in that explosion, your world and your family can suffer. But, with care and concern, you can have a fabulous combination of both. It is up to the woman to balance her sensitivity and woman power.
Nelofar Shahnaz's daughter says of her mother "Here is a woman who has kept at her dream with determination. She broke through the glass ceiling and pioneered the herbal industry. She has so much courage and is able to do what she wants with so much elan," she says.
It was Shenaaz's daughter Nelofar who conspired to introduce her mother to her second husband a R K Puri "Nobody should be alone. Mr Puri had come to advise us professionally and had lost his wife to cancer. Here were two people in very similar positions. He was brought up in England, elegant and well-suited to my mother. I encouraged my mother as much as I could."
Nisha is a celebrity columnist and a luxury brand consultant