In her native India, Noureen Sultana learned the traditional ceremonial art of mehndi, or temporary henna tattoos, from her mother, Zaheer Unisa Begum — who had mastered the practice through guidance from her own mother, Mahmooda Khatoon.
Sultana and her husband, Waheed Khan, married in 2001 and settled in Framingham the following year. A trained architect, she is in her 14th year running Noureen Design, specializing in bridal services of hairstyling, make-up, dressing, and the intricate henna designs inspired by Indian, Pakistani, Moroccan, and Arabic traditions.
Q. Did you do this work in India?
Sultana:No, because there was no concept of women going to work. When we came to the United States I got the idea, because you could not find anyone to do henna. When a bride gets married, this is one of the most important things.
Q. Waheed, what were your views on Noureen working outside the home?
Khan:We had an arranged marriage, so the first time I saw Noureen was on the day of the wedding — with 1,000 guests! I told her she should not be working, but every night when I was sleeping, she did her painting and embroidery. She said, “I don’t want to lose my art.” I said, “If you want to work, I will stand with you.” So we started her business.
Sultana: He’s a good husband, and friend also.
Q. What is the demand for henna in Greater Boston?
Sultana:I do 80 to 85 weddings a year. I’ve done them locally, and traveled to New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and even Chicago.
Q. How long does it take to apply a henna tattoo?
Sultana:For a bride, it’s three to four hours for the front and back of her hands, and her feet also. It’s just hands for the guests, and I can do 15 hands in one hour.
Q. You taught henna to your sons at young ages; Danish is 11, and Mahid is 7.
Sultana:I want them to know my culture. Danish doesn’t do henna on the bride, but he does a very good job helping with the guests. I’m happy and proud.
Q. Are people ever surprised to see a boy doing henna?
Sultana: Every time. Once he starts, 20 people gather to see how a boy is doing this art. He tells them this is God’s gift.