Taking the stairs up to her office, we see endless frames of print ads on the walls. She walks in a few minutes later. “Running an ad agency is not easy, but it works for me because my office is right above my house,” she says. Her little daughter, Shirin, coyly holds her hand throughout the conversation. As we are planning the shoot, she points at a frame proudly, “This is Shirin. She models for ads sometimes!” She then turns towards her and explains how it is Mama’s turn to be the model today. “When I started off 13 years ago, no one took me seriously. Gaining people’s trust as a woman was difficult but Chandigarh is a very warm city and people are skeptical yet understanding. Now I get clients from all over the country but I don’t want to get into something too huge. I am content with what I’m doing and I want to spend time with my kids.” As she changes into her dress, her daughter trots across the room in her mother’s heels excitedly. “Stand in front of me so I can smile nice and big,” Devika tells her. I am always in formals as I am at the office or attending meetings. In the evening I like to wear dresses but I don’t have a lot of those,” she explains as she pulls an Ann Taylor ensemble out of her closet. “There is no time for shopping. We just went with the kids to the States for a holiday where I picked up a new bag and shopped a bit. My husband is a very simple man. He doesn’t know how much these bags cost and I don’t even tell him!” she chuckles. By this time, Shirin has applied her mother’s make-up and changed into her dress as well. “Look mom I look just like you!”
Is this for real, we wonder, as we stand in front of what seems to be the set of a Karan Johar movie. While we contemplate on whether the house has a helipad on the roof, we walk past the choicest cars lined up leading to the main door. We are ushered into the mansion (calling it a house would be doing injustice to it) and we can’t help but notice a hand-painted family portrait as we are approaching the study. Not sure what to expect next, we are greeted by Neena Talwar who is dressed in an embroidered sari wearing chandelier diamond earrings. Surprisingly, she is a rather simple lady with a warm and friendly smile that puts us at ease. “I wasn’t sure whether to wear a sari or western she says. I actually love saris and have a huge collection.” We then walk around the place to find a spot for the photo-shoot. On asking her how she manages to maintain such a big house she says she loves doing it as her family is very fond of having guests over. I am a home-maker and I love doing up the place as it keeps me busy. Even today, my husband and children come home for lunch and then head back to work.” There is a motherly affection in her tone. We walk past the pool room and the lounge and it’s hard to decide where to shoot with every corner being picture perfect. Her house staff brings her collection of Louis Vuitton handbags and she matches a red patent monogram to go with her sari. “Although our family business is jewellery, I don’t really like wearing too much together. Just a statement neck piece or earrings is good enough. Diamonds are my favourite. I always believe in comfort when it comes to dressing.” Even while shooting she is consciously aware of the approaching lunch hour and constantly instructs her staff to keep things ready. Family sure comes first for her.
The venue is an unusual one. Bella Vista, a boutique hotel in the foothills of the Shivalik ranges is where we are meeting Divya, who is making a pit-stop in Chandigarh on her way to Delhi from Ludhiana. We are welcomed by Prithvi who owns the place and gives us a good taste of Chandigarh hospitality. “Divya is a dear family friend of ours,” he explains as he shows us around the sprawling property while we wait for her to get ready. She steps out in a floral Cacharel dress looking immaculate. Her hair is perfectly in place and her ivory skin is glistening without any signs of travel fatigue. She apologises for making us wait and we are not complaining. With the usual exchange of pleasantries, we place ourselves in her suite with a walk-in pool and wait for the downpour to cease so we can go out and shoot. The view is ethereal from her window with the rain and the hills around. To Divya, luxury comes naturally. She poses like a dream, simultaneously narrating her experience at the Delhi Louis Vuitton store. “When I bought the suede bag, I walked around only to notice it had a slight scratch on the side. I was heartbroken. So I returned to the store the next day and the staff there asked me to empty the bag and give it to them. I walked around the whole day with all the contents of my bag in a carrybag, can you believe it!” she exclaims. “But when I returned, they gave me another one of the same with no questions asked. It felt incredible.” She adds sipping on her mocktail, “My work requires me to travel constantly and therefore I’m always on the go. I think there is so much potential in Ludhiana and Chandigarh as people in these cities are luxury connoisseurs.” She jokes about how the city is notoriously mentioned in the much-talked-about book, Powder Room with reference to the love for designer brands and the need to constantly show-off. With the rains not showing any intent to stop, we decide to shoot inside the suite as we continue discovering more about Divya. “I am actually an architect by qualification,” she reveals. “But I went on to join my husband’s bicycle business and as an export director I travelled to various countries and felt the need to bring more luxury brands to India. Therefore I started organising trunk shows and events in and around Ludhiana to bring luxury designer labels to the people in these cities.” Over the years she has brought brands like Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Brioni, Aigner, Judith Leiber, Just Cavalli, Kenzo and Valentino to the women of Punjab.
As we enter her house, one can’t help but notice the wooden piano and a plethora of paintings on the walls. There is an understated elegance in the way her home has been furnished and there are no two ways about the fact that the place is inhabited by a bunch of creative minds. While we are busy looking around, Mohita appears dressed in a chocolate brown and black dress that perfectly complements her Louis Vuitton bag. “My life revolves completely around my work and my family,” she says as she starts getting comfortable. “I’m always dressed in comfortable clothes as I work in a factory and dressing up like this is not an option!” Starting off as a women’s wear designer, Mohita moved to designing clothes for children. “As a mother I felt the dearth of proper clothes for my children in India. Everything available looked like it was just a scaled down version of adult clothing. Children are different. They have a different body type and they don’t want to wear frills and frocks all the time.” Her kids wear her label, 612 Ivy League which caters to pre-teens, just like her daughters. “When we started off three years ago, my husband and I never imagined it would grow to this level. But he is very hardworking and supportive, and the journey has been easier with him on my side,” she smiles. With work keeping them busy, their only escape is a holiday abroad for quality family time. “It is during these holidays that I find time to shop! In fact, my first Louis Vuitton bag was a gift from my sister. I love shopping but I’m not a hoarder. I like to invest in statement pieces that go a long way,” she explains. As we speak, the photographer struggles to get her to strike a pose. “I am so not used to this,” she admits. “I’ve always been on the other side of the camera while shooting my brand campaigns. Now I know how hard it is!” It is lunch time and her husband and daughters walk in. The photographer jokingly asks her to look at them and smile while he aims the camera at her. And smile she does. “I think we have our shot,” he says.
Climbing up the stairs to her living room, one can hear Abba crooning an old number in the background. There are some balloons around the place which look like the remnants of a birthday party. The energy in the air is contagious and we suddenly feel alive in the middle of a hot sunny afternoon. Nalini looks stunning in a green Sabyasachi sari as she jokes about how she thinks she doesn’t fit the bill for this feature.
“I’m a very low profile person and camera shy.” We help her to decide which earrings she should pair with her sari. “I’m not into too much bling,” she explains. “Which is why I love Sabyasachi’s designs. Chandigarh has come such a long way. There are so many new eateries and joints and so much more to do than when I left the city.” Having spent nine years of her married life in Belgium, the couple decided to move back to India for the kids. “I saw the other Indian children growing up without an identity. And I didn’t want our kids to be like that. And although Belgium is a beautiful place, we felt it would be much better for our children to be in their own country.” Her love for children resulted in the creation of a dedicated play zone for children called Kid’s Own. “It’s a place where kids can come and do their own thing without parents. We have games and activities and a well-trained all-female staff to overlook them. Chandigarh sure has some stylish children,” she laughs. “Small boys and girls are dolled up in everything from Tommy Hilfiger to Burberry. It was unheard of in our time!” We place the Sevigne Louis Vuitton next to her and it complements her Sabyasachi sari perfectly. “I love shopping,” she exclaims. “Everything from bags to shoes, I feel it is therapeutic. But I like to be content and I don’t go on binges.” She poses with perfection, much to our photographer’s delight. “I hope we are done soon as it is time for my evening walk. I love this about Chandigarh that you have so much time for yourself. It just makes you happier and healthier.”
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