Oblivious to the busy market place that surrounds him in Malad (East), 22-year-old Pankaj Kumar remains engrossed in drawing an intricate design on a customer’s palm. Even as the crowd around him swells, his eyes are glued to the palm that he is bending over, swiftly moving a mehendi cone until he finishes the pattern. It is his passion for carving ornamental henna designs that brought him to Mumbai two years ago. “I got attracted to the art by seeing my cousin working on it in Jaipur. He trained me for a few months and then I moved to Mumbai to earn a living,” says Mathura-born Kumar.
Initially, he worked as a henna art assistant in Borivali until he mustered the courage and the means to take off on his own. Now, Kumar is in such great demand that he has engaged four assistants to help him attend to his clients. “During the wedding season, customers are too many to handle alone. So, I have kept four people to help me. In the off-season, they go back to their villages as I barely get four to five customers a day,” he adds.
Charging anything from Rs 50 to Rs 200 for regular customers during peak season, Kumar easily makes around Rs 4,000 in a day. He also offers silver, gold and Jardoji mehendi, involving the use of glitters in henna, for which, prices start at Rs 200. For regular bridal mehendi, the price starts at Rs 2,100. Silver or gold mehendi prices begin at Rs 5,000. Working from the same location for about a year, he has a loyal clientele who call him to different places for wedding orders. Recalling a recent trip to Delhi he says: “It feels good when people appreciate your art. They could have called someone locally, in Delhi. Instead, they preferred to call me all the way from Mumbai,” says Kumar.
Looking at how lucrative the work is, many of his relatives from his native town have shown interest in joining him in Mumbai. “Everybody back home is amazed by how much I make here and many of my cousins also want to join me. Some of them will be moving to Mumbai during the festive time in the Raksha Bandhan season,” he says.
Malad resident Priyanshi Rungta said: “For us, all women coming together to apply mehendi on their hands is a festival in itself. We had first called Pankaj for the mehendi ceremony of my daughter last year. Since everybody liked his designs, we now call him for all our functions, like Bhaiyadooj and Teej.”