She’s the kind of woman who turns heads every time she walks into a room. Not because of what she’s wearing or what bag she’s carrying, but simply because she exudes a powerful persona embodied by a delightful, free spirit. Salma is bold, outspoken, and has had a very colourful life. Her joie de vivre and urge to live life to the fullest are truly infectious. She turned her love for textiles into a job that she does passionately, specialising in fabrics of India, where the beauty lies in their simplicity.
You give off the vibe of someone who has led a rather interesting life. What’s your story?
I did my college in Mumbai, in the midst of which I got a film offer. Being impulsive, I went for it. I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to work with the biggest filmmaker of the time – Raj Kapoor. I then got married and moved to Dubai for 20 years. In the interim period from films to getting married, I got into painting. I gave up painting after my mother’s death, while painting a canvas of hers that lay unfinished. I had to find something else to do, so I got into pottery and was mentored by G. Raghu in Bhopal. The hospitality he extended to me was mindboggling.
Wow, your life sounds straight out of the movies!
(Laughs) Indeed it sure does, with many twists and turns! I landed up in two car accidents and had to give up pottery in order to care for my health. However, I had the most beautiful experience working in Bhopal. And then started the journey with Good Earth asking me to propose a line for them. It was an organic khadi line, but that never went through. My love for textiles remained, however. I have always had a fixation for textiles. If I had a million dollars and could spend it on anything, it would be textiles. They give me that kick...it really excites me.
What has influenced you in your design process?
While I was studying at the Elphinstone College, we were exposed to a lot of art. We had the Jehangir Art Gallery there, and every time there were artisans coming in, I would go and enquire and get down to observing them. I was spellbound by the labour that went into everything they did. Even when I went to Benaras, I was amazed at how talented each worker (who is paid a pittance for the intricate work they do) was. That really inspired me.
What are some of the other things that inspire you?
I love travelling and photography. I like going to little villages and shooting random pictures.
You’re the definition of a strong, bold and outspoken woman who is very inspiring. Who inspired you?
My grandmother, Mehmooda Begum, who was married into a Rajput Hindu family to Mehra Mansingh ji. My grandfather died at a young age. She was left with everything to manage, and did a beautiful job of it. She was picture-perfect – a gorgeous woman, immaculate in Urdu, poetry and cooking. I would always look at her and say “Wow”! (smiles)
What do you feel defines a strong woman in the Indian context?
Things have changed dramatically for young Indian women now. Everyone is career-oriented and that’s fantastic. Lots of women were hanging onto marriages, because women didn’t have the financial independence to leave. I am so proud to see the younger generation working all over the world; they are super tech-savvy and there is no confusion in their minds. There is a single focus in their heads. That makes me very happy, because why shouldn’t an Indian woman be strong and independent?
What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?
Work first. Get your career sorted. Travel the world. You learn and experience so much when you’re travelling. The exposure you get by doing that, no book or university gives you. And eventually if you want to settle down, then do it. But don’t let the talent go! Never forget the people who stood by you during your struggle. A life without friends is a lonely life. If you can nurture a good friendship, never give it up. – as told to Suneela