The little beauty parlour I go to looks like every other beauty parlour. You’d be forgiven if you walked past it without a second glance, so ordinary does it seem.
Shonelle’s sits between a medical store and a small-time jewelry shop, both equally non-descript. Across the road, a tiny kiosk sells cigarettes by the piece, loaves of bread, and eggs, the kind of place for small, impulsive needs. A middle-aged, wiry man loiters near it, dressed casually in shorts and rubber slippers. Nobody is checking him out, he knows. A young woman passes him, carrying a Barbie-themed bag pack on one shoulder while she holds the hand of her 7-year old mistress, returning home from school.
No, there is nothing exceptional about Shonelle’s from the outside. If you did not go in, however, you would miss out on an embrace that’s waiting just for you. In the harried, self-absorbed world that we live in these days, it is heart-warming to be cherished like this.
The parlour doesn’t do much by the book. On the menu, beside the hair and beauty services, there is ghar ka khana, home-made food, which the owner, Shon, freely offers in her bubbly, effusive style. She doesn’t offer so much as insist, loudly proclaiming it’s lunch-time and expressing incredulity as to why on earth would I not want it. She feels for me, I think, living away from family, by myself, so she smothers the emotional hole with punjabi-style rajma chawal (kidney beans and rice). Needless to say, it’s brimming with flavour, and after the first time, I’ve stopped refusing out of politeness. More than the spices, it’s the warmth and generosity that season it and make me crave it.
I used to go there only to get my eyebrows threaded. The reason I continued patronizing it is because I never felt pressured to do more than I wanted. I know parlours don’t make money off of people like me, they need ladies to indulge in the higher-priced services. Most beauty parlours have a bad habit of making me feel bad, by asking me why I don’t get a facial to root out all the blackheads that are apparently overflowing on my face; or why do I let my hair suffer without giving it the head massage and treatment it so desperately needs. At Shonelle’s, they let me come and go with my low-revenue threading, as long as I wanted. Having been given the space, I now do a lot more, spending a good 2 hours at least every time, with its commensurate bill.
The staff is as warm in demeanor. They actually seem excited to see me whenever I drop in, which is a nice feeling, especially in a world where no one has time for you. They tend to me like I’m special, and I can’t help feel that they do a little extra for me. Shantanu is the male stylist, which is unusual because parlours like this typically employ only females. He is a delight. He wants to please, his big brown eyes show it. He takes additional care wherever he can, which is why it doesn’t bother me at all when water splashes on my face during a hair wash. He’s there to wipe it off, and neither of us gets worked up about why it’s happening in the first place. He takes his time with everything, concentrating in a Zen-like way. To him, I’m a new, first project every time, deserving of the attention it needs. The other staff are as attentive, giving me a kiss even if they’re not working on me, wanting me to drink tea even when I’m not desiring it.
This is a far cry from the high-end salons, who have glitzy lights and the pumping club music, but also make me feel like a walking cash opportunity. They don’t have time for me, and they certainly don’t offer me food made at home. Places like Shonelle’s get it. Love your customer so much that she doesn’t feel like a customer anymore. This parlour is not a parlour. It’s a second home, where people know me and look forward to seeing me. I, too, look forward to my weekly visits, to see my friends.
Note: this piece didn’t start out as an endorsement for Shonelle’s. I realize it looks like one. To close the loop, here’s the address and telephone. I highly recommend it, if you want some lovin’ with your manicure.
2, Matai Mansion,
John Baptist Rd, near Mt. Mary’s Church steps,
Bandra West, Mumbai
Tel: 22- 26403923
Timings: 10am – 8pm.