A brave shave

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Vani Chandra finds a unique way to celebrate a milestone birthday

Seven Hills beautician Vani Chandra did her bit for leukaemia last week by participating in the World’s Greatest Shave campaign.

She raised more than $5000 for the Leukaemia Foundation by shaving off her thick, long hair.

Admit it, that’s brave, given she is of Indian heritage. Hair has a whole other meaning for Indian women.

Michelle Rowland, the local MP, was at the beauty salon to support Vani as the razor was turned on.

Some sixty other people, including regular customers and friends and family, turned up as well. Many of them had their own hair coloured at the salon, as their way of contributing towards the fundraiser.

World's Greatest Shave.Indian Link

Speaking to Indian Link, Vani revealed her passion for the project. “I donate to many cancer-related charities and have wanted to participate in the World’s Greatest Shave for the past three years. But my husband, two sons and my staff discourage me, given my profession as a beautician. ‘Why don’t you just colour your hair?’ they told me. But it was something that I really wanted to do. When I turned 55 recently I declared it as my birthday wish, and they were left with no choice but to support me.”

Born and bred in Singapore, Vani migrated to Australia twenty years ago and opened her beauty and sari shop five years later. Her hard work and dedication soon saw her business expand. In addition to her Indian Beauty House in Seven Hills she now owns Vani’s Beauty Parlour in Flemington.

Vani is quite clear that beauty is not merely external. “Beauty is not only what is outside, it should come from within. Being in the beauty industry for fifteen years, I thought I can raise awareness about cancer in the Indian community through my parlours.”

World's Greatest Shave.Indian Link

The beautiful hair that came off her head will be donated to Westmead Hospital to be converted into a wig.

“When I think that I can donate something useful for someone who needs it more, I am filled with a great sense of achievement,” she said.

She expressed her deepest compassion for young sufferers who lose their hair. “I wanted to give my hair to a younger girl to help her feel well again.”

As the hair began to come off, many of Vani’s staff became emotional. “In Indian culture a married woman is not supposed to shave her head, it is a sentimental thing,” Vani observed. “Some of my girls couldn’t bear to look, and some even had tears. But it was my wish and my passion and I felt strong.”

Of course, it didn’t all happen overnight. Vani says much planning went into making her dream a reality. “I started planning last year. I registered myself with the Leukaemia Foundation and they guided me step by step. They sent me all the promotional stuff like t-shirts and posters.”

Michelle Rowland, whose office is in Seven Hills and who is a regular client, got on board to offer support.

World's Greatest Shave.Indian Link

Vani shared, “Whenever Michelle attends an Indian function, I help dress her up in saris and do her hair and makeup. When she has fundraisers I support her by donating gift vouchers. So, when I approached her about my project, she agreed without hesitation and also promised to donate. She was the first to cut my hair.”

Did she have doubts about how she would cope afterwards? Vani laughed, “To be honest, it didn’t bother me at all! Hair or no hair, I am still the same person. In fact, I feel great. My husband thinks I look sexier!”

Vani believes her hair will grow back in three or four months, but in the meantime she won’t wear a wig to hide her bald head. “I won’t be able to wear Indian outfits, but that’s fine. And in the Indian culture people might think something’s wrong or feel sorry for me. But hey, it’s only short term.”

World's Greatest Shave.Indian Link

Vani expressed gratitude to her family, her customers, committee and members of the Sakhti Amman Temple in Toongabbie and her relatives in Singapore for helping her reach the fundraising target.

Vani is proud of her contribution to cancer awareness and maintains that she might consider the World’s Greatest Shave again in the future. “I hope my message gets through and encourages other community members to step forward and get involved.”