A woman from Darjeeling has a hobby of collecting nails

Nail it….

By Anjana Paresh Parikh

A medium-sized cosmetic bag with cheetah-print lay among piles of papers and files on her office table. I asked, “What is this bag doing here?” Shubhana Rai said, “Only a woman has an eye for such things.”

A woman from Darjeeling has a hobby of collecting nails

Rai, the general sales manager of one of the renowned hotels of Darjeeling, is an avid collector of nails, not of others but her own.

Nail collection has fascinated her ever since she was in college. “It’s been nearly two decades and the zeal in me is still the same as it was when I first started. It gives me a sense of joy and relaxation,” said Rai, a proud owner of over 300 self-manicured nails.

Rai has been very loyal towards her hobby which has been proved time and again by the way she takes care of her nails; on some occasions they can be as long as 4 cm in length.

Aren’t they a distraction? “Not at all. I’m so used to growing long nails that when they break, I feel uneasy especially when my fingers touch the surface of a table, book or anything,” she says. It appears this perfected art of nail growing has given an extra physical attribute to her appearance. They serve as a physical barrier to the skin of her fingers and also help in maintaining hygiene from external objects in the guise of feline prowess.

Ironically, during her school days, people used to tease her for having such “short and ugly nails”. She was a compulsive nail biter. When things went over the brim, Rai finally decided to show the world that she too is capable of growing long nails which can be an owner’s pride and neighbours’ envy.

With time, she became an inspiration to many girls including her friend Lily Beth Davis who worked with her inDubai. “One day, Lily’s friend brought her a nice nail polish from Australia. When he gave it to her, he said ‘I want your nails to be like those of Shubhana,’” she recalls with humility. Rai was also asked to give Lily some tips about manicure. “Now Lily, who too had small nails earlier, is today an inspiration to others,” says Rai with a sparkle in her eyes.

Before moving to Kolkata, in the mid-90s to pursue her career in hotel management, Rai received many cards and gifts from her friends and relatives. And to reciprocate their love for her, she parted away with some of her most beautiful nails which she had collected over the years. The nails had loving notes such as ‘miss you’ or ‘keep in touch’, inscribed on them.

Having collected more than 30 different colours of nail polishes in the recent years, Rai experiments in a variety of ways including tattooing to give new and exciting looks to her nails. This brings a certain sense of satisfaction in her.

As a student many years ago I used Erasex to design my finger nails.Things have changed and so has the art. These days, I even go for nail tattoo as some see fingernails and toenails as important points of beauty,” says Rai, who despite her busy schedule finds time to pursue her passion. And to do this, she spends about Rs 3,000 per month. Rai is aware that synthetic glue on nails are available online but feels the pleasure of having nurtured her nails patiently over time is irreplaceable.

Any beauty tips? “Give breathing time to your nails and do not paint them with nail polish for a few days. Length is not everything but keeping them clean is,” she advices. Rai uses hand gloves when she’s working in the kitchen.

Unlike Tippi Hedren, the actress who starred in several films of Alfred Hitchock in the 1960s, and admired not only for her long glossy nails but also for being instrumental in helping Vietnamese migrants to California get started in the nail industry, Rai’s nails have created an impression in their own way.

“I distress myself while pursuing my hobby,” Rai signs off after showing her cheetah-print bag to me which consisted of five nail polishes and a brush.

Being attached to a non-living ‘designer’ object can cause joy but also sorrow if they break. I wonder how long will this bondage last.

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