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DEEPA VENKATRAMAN
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OffbeatCome, apply and go home with your hands full but with a difference

Handful of ideasThere are several styles of Mehndi designs
Handful of ideasThere are several styles of Mehndi designs

It is 3.30 p.m. but the scorching sun doesn't deter the artist who is deep into his work on the street near Mylapore Tank. Sitting under a parasol on a small stool, seven-year-old Riya is patiently getting mehndi applied on her little palms. The mehndi artist swiftly draws intricate designs with a cone filled with mehndi paste. The artist then holds out a visiting card to me with addresses of two other locations from where he operates. “I have been assigned this location. If you contact my brothers in T.Nagar (opposite Sri Kumaran) and Lattice Bridge Road, you will get more details,” says Pramod Kumar.

A young boy is learning the art sitting next to Pramod.

It has been four years since the three brothers, who hail from Agra, moved to Chennai. Says Rajesh, “Besides the language barrier, we had to convince the existing local vendors to give us some place in T.Nagar and Mylapore. But in the course of time, we became friends with them and now they are fine with our presence.”

Ask why they chose to come to Chennai and Rajesh says, “In Delhi, every street has a Mehndi artist. But when we came to Chennai, we did not find any one doing it on the streets and felt it was a good opportunity. People who used to come to us in T.Nagar and Mylapore requested us to expand our work to other areas. So eight months ago, we also started catering to people in Adyar and beyond.”

They also have a business model in place. “As we operate from locations which are shopping areas it is easier to get customers.”

Says Darshana from Guindy, who has been coming to these brothers for the past three years whenever she wants to apply mehndi, says, “The colour lasts for a week and their mehndi is chemical-free. They are also very quick, and not messy.” Ritu Shah, a resident of R.A. Puram, who goes to Pramod often to get mehndi applied, “It is customary to apply mehndi on the palms for festivals. And these brothers are very quick and economical.”

Like the trio, over the years, there have been many others who have taken to applying mehndi. You can see them in Pursaivalkam, Sowcarpet, Mint Street and Anna Nagar. Says Hoshiar Singh, who sits near the Anna Nagar bus stop, “When we came to Anna Nagar more than three years ago, there were very few in this field. But with more and more people setting up mehndi-designing shops in different streets, our business has been hit hard.” According to Singh, “The business reaches its peak during wedding seasons. Earlier, even during off season people would come to get mehndi applied, but not any more.”

These mehndi designers have undergone training in Arabic and Indian styles — from basic to bridal decoration. “One of my relatives gave me useful tips to establish myself in the trade — use a special herbal mehndi oil from Delhi for better colour, avoid repeating designs and do not use the cone for more than two days,” smiles Singh.

DEEPA VENKATRAMAN

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