Call her the henna girl. Little Jesma’s passion for henna began right from her childhood when she would dabble with its possibilities and treat elder friends to her henna art. She would pluck the mylanchi leaves from her yard, mash them up and grind them to a fine paste. When ready-made paste was not even thought of then, she would draw designs for grown-ups using just an eerkil (midrib from a coconut palm leaf). Her talent was a wonder those days when mehendi cones and designs galore were not yet visualized. As days went by Jesma found herself being sought after to dress up friends and relatives with henna at their weddings. She was also the undisputed henna art queen at school fests and youth festivals winning first prizes all the way.
Her Muslim friends would throng her house in Kozhikode come Ramzan and other festivals for a touch of mehendi from Jesma.
She took a break from “work” to concentrate on her studies thereby giving some rest to her mylanchi craze. Her course in MBA over, she worked as process coordinator in Toyota for more than three years and then as finance manager in Curo Morris Luxury Diamonds and went on to be general manager as well. She then got hitched to Mithun, branch manager at HDB Financial Service.
It was while spending her time with her baby that Jesma chanced upon more details on henna while surfing the net. Tinkering with Instagram brought her to international henna greats like Kiran Sahib and Jo with whom she soon became acquainted.
“They saw my designs and were amazed with my work. They told me that they had become such experts after learning a lot about their art and working hard on them. They were amazed and surprised that I had no such practice whatsoever,” said Jesma.
“But you work so well. It comes so naturally to you,' they said and I was thrilled by their encouragement”, says the young artist. “This was food for thought. Why not take this up as a profession? It got me thinking. Now they help me a lot, right from techniques of mehendi mixing to other valuable tips.”
Log on to Facebook and you’ll find her there as Jesma Mithun and as “Jesma’s Henna” on Instagram. Her standing on social media soon took her all over the world with inquiries pouring in. Jesma’s designs begin from Rs 2,000 with bridal work beginning at Rs 5,000. The more elaborate the design, the more hefty the charge. A work which calls for time, patience and concentration, elaborate and intricate designs fetch Jesma between Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 for her effort.
The design list is endless. From a photo of the bride to her name and to Indian, Arabic, Indo-Arabic, Moroccan and Mandalas styles and Seed of Life, the demand is prolific. All designs are worked as per the wishes of the bride. It’s the heavy Indian design which costs the most. It needs hours of work to finish it to perfection. And Indian designs are of course the ones closest to her heart.
To make the mehendi stay on your hands for days, you need to keep it on for five to eight hours. The longer it’s kept, the brighter the color. To clear the hand of the mehendi, never wash it off, says Jesma. The best course would be to scrape off the dry stuff with a spoon or a knife. Once the whole dry powder is cleaned, smear coconut oil on the palms. No soap or water for the next 24 hours. Keep on oiling the hands at regular intervals. Jesma hands out “must-do” cards to all her clients to ensure they get the best results.
When she took up designing in all its seriousness, she was determined to work only with natural henna. However, she had to put her work on hold for close to six months due to the non-availability of pure henna cones. She soon learned to make her own cones with chemicals-free triple filtered mehendi powder sourced from Rajasthan, though the powder was a bit expensive. She went in for Essential oil to darken the color. The oil being pure, its price too is high.
Mehendi also needs the right temperature to keep it from losing color and texture. It soon spoils under natural temperature. Hence, it has to be preserved in the freezer. This is the best way to identify good quality mehendi. Most often it turns an angry red within an hour after it’s taken out. That’s because the chemical content in the powder is quite high. There have been several instances of users suffering allergies and burns after using such shop-bought henna powder. “In fact, I was also quite ignorant of such facts and used such easily available cones,” says Jesma.
A lot of people think it’s no big deal to be a henna artist. But the work involved is painstaking. The paste ground well at home needs to be set aside for hours for dry release. They are then preserved in carrot bags. The designs never work out well if ingredients like water and sugar are not added in the right proportions. One needs the utmost patience till the whole cured stuff is transferred to cellophane cones.
Ask her how many hands she has painted and she shrugs. She has no count at all. But for now, she takes up orders only if she feels comfortable about the work. The time factor is very important and she needs to feel relaxed with her work. Besides, she has started work on realizing her dream of owning Kerala’s first henna styling-designing studio. Branding and logo-designing are being worked out. More than the business angle, it was her passion for henna art which pushed Jesma into this profession.
Bear in mind
Bridal henna designs involve eight to ten hours of work. You need not only patience, but the ability to draw well. Without these two basic ingredients, henna art will never work well. One needs to cater to customer needs. It’s not just love, but a deep seated craze for your work that‘s needed. A lot of experimentation has to go into finding the best quality henna.
Care, precision and perfection are other must haves on the job. Unless the cone is rolled and sealed properly, the stuff could leak out. Perfection lies in getting the design right the way you visualized it.
One just cannot jump into the job one fine morning and expect to make money. Patience pays. You need to first work on the designs, then execute them and wait for calls. It takes time to make a name for oneself.