Beauty & the COVID-19 Beast

When the world moved to work-from-home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Divya Chouhan ambitiously moved her business to an official premises to establish herself and grow.

When Divya Chouhan heads home in the afternoon after her shift at the Women and Child Department office, her neighbours often stop her on her way. Since she has a government job, they like to consult her about almost everything — recently, the most popular subject has been COVID-19. “They consult me about what medicine to take even if they have a cough or a cold,” she said, chuckling.

But this is only one of Divya’s avatars. “Everyone from my mother’s side of the family has a government job and everyone from my father’s side of the family runs a business; I do a bit of both,” said the 26-year-old from Dewas, Madhya Pradesh.

When she isn’t a government employee, Divya dons the hat of a beauty-preneur. She teaches beauty parlour skills to a small group of women every afternoon, from 1 p.m. to 4 pm. She feels teaching is an art which not only adds to her income, but also sharpens her skills: “Finesse comes from teaching.” 

Divya then attends to clients at her rented beauty parlour in the market area. Pre-pandemic, she used to operate her salon and conduct teaching from her home. But the lockdown urged her to formalize her vocation. “When the lockdown (March 2020) happened, I was home for a long time. I told myself if I want to go somewhere in life, then I have to start a business of my own.” Parlour servicing from her residential premises wasn’t quite the “business” idea she had conceived in her mind while pursuing management studies. During the lockdown, even the services offered from her home took a hit.

Starting a business, however, was not easy due to a paucity of funds. Even before the pandemic broke out, Divya’s mother had fallen severely ill in February 2020. “My mother had to be taken to a private facility that cost us a lot of money. The lockdown added to that financial burden since my father’s printing press was temporarily shut down and I could not teach in person either. Money was very tight,” recalled Divya, adding, “I did not want to borrow money from a relative or ask anyone for help.”

While pursuing her MBA, Divya had heard of Pratham, an organization that works with women micro-entrepreneurs to promote sustainable incomes and financial independence. Pratham apprised her about the REVIVE Alliance, and the returnable grant programme aimed at bringing COVID-hit livelihoods back on track. Divya availed a grant of ₹10,000 to bring her business to life.

Divya now leverages her MBA training to promote her beauty classes on Whatsapp and her parlour business on Instagram. “I designed a course completion certificate for my students and used Whatsapp to spread the word about my classes. I also frequently post pictures of my clients on Instagram to market the different services I offer,” she said.

Even though the lockdowns were lifted in late 2020 to release the economy, many like Divya’s father have struggled to get back to pre-pandemic levels of business. At this difficult time, Divya’s contribution to the family’s finances has been crucial for their survival. “Many in my family have gotten inspired by my journey and want to start businesses of their own,” said Divya. Her sphere of influence now extends not just to her neighbours but also to her students, family and relatives as well. “Everyone looks up to me,” she said, proudly.

This story was edited by Raveena Joseph