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January 23, 2011

Stories and Soirees

Text by Sohiny Das. Photographs by Shibu Arakkal

Anisha and Dia Bhandary are familiar faces in Bengaluru’s art arena and on the social circuit. They invite Verve to their family home, for a chat about their work, lifestyle and a shared passion for anything with a historic background – beauty that tells a tale

Sankey Road is a peaceful, upscale area of Bengaluru. Old-style mansions, the beautiful Windsor Sheraton hotel and its neighbouring golf course give us a feel of what the Garden City was like, before the epidemic advent of the information technology mega-hubs, the info-tainment areas for all their recruited young professionals and eventually, the glass and steel retail zones to relieve them of their disposable incomes. In this very modern city, Sankey Road is a slight step back in time.

On the driveway of Dia Bhandary’s tree-lined, Deco home, the first family member to greet any visitor is the Bhandarys’ gloriously caramel Irish setter. It is a genuine, warm welcome – no fake air mwah-mwahs, just wet, sloppy affection after a measured stare. “Down, boy!” Dia rushes to the rescue.

The lawns are well tended. Maintained, but not artificially manicured. It is a natural green haven; no one needs to crane their neck and monitor if caramel canine Rugger runs amok, chases squirrels and digs up a bit of soil to satisfy his curiosities. It is the same with the interiors of the Bhandary mansion. The spacious, two-level home offers a lot visually – the very first scan of the large living area registers valuable old furniture and genuine antiques – but it is a space with a purpose, of living in. Not just a display case.

Dia casually lounges on a carved wood seat with brocade upholstery. The petite luxury brand consultant, who is a prominent face at the city’s premier social events, is unexpectedly but endearingly awkward and apprehensively enthusiastic about our photoshoot (one would expect her to be a camera-facing veteran). But at the moment, she is comfortable in the house that she has grown up in, where she still lives with her parents. “Being in a slightly older house, we constantly have to refurbish it, but that’s part of the charm of an old house. And its unusual semi-circular shape never ceases to amaze me,” she speaks of the Deco sensibility in the architecture – rounded walls, winding staircases and long, curved corridors are quietly mysterious and homely at the same time. “The house is spacious, yes, though there are not many rooms. But the large spaces between rooms lend personality to the house, and privacy.”

Privacy is something that Anisha Bhandary, Dia’s older sister, also values. “My friends and I used to skip classes and have exciting afternoons at home, with no one knowing that we’d been housed all day long!” she recalls. Now married, Anisha lives with her husband and sons in a separate space, which is conveniently close by. An art consultant, she curates many shows and exhibitions in and around Bengaluru. “Our most prestigious project was the display of the Maharaja of Mysore’s collection of art, which is normally housed in the private quarters of the Mysore Palace. It was the first of its kind in Karnataka.”

Art is ingrained in both sisters – it has been a family way of life. Their passion for all things old, objects with history and pieces with a story to tell has made them both ardent collectors. An 18th century cast metal Chola Nataraj is content in its own territory, while a rare bronze statue of Ardhanareshwari (part male, part female – also from the Chola period) resides in another setting. Then there are the priceless treasures – inheritances with sentimental memories attached. One area is resplendent with a collection of old Tanjore paintings, inherited by their mother. “We added to it by recently acquiring a powerful painting of Lord Rama’s coronation,” Dia says. “It’s unusually large, covers almost an entire wall.” Anisha is particularly fond of the bed in her old room. “It’s solid rosewood with carvings and inlay work. It belonged to my grandparents.”

Upstairs, a large rectangular mural displayed above a settee demands attention. “It was created in 1983 by the late G S Shenoy, who incorporated the names and horoscopes of all the family members,” narrates Dia, as she points out the details. Anisha treasures her collection of Paresh Hazra paintings. “I’m a big fan. I also like Raja Ravi Varma, Baroque art and the Lazarus style of furniture.” Their travels together have helped extend their collections. “We rarely disagree,” Anisha says, on being asked about differences in their aesthetics. “We travel very well together, and like discovering objets d’art in Saint Paul de Vence in France, Bruges in Belgium and parts of Sri Lanka.”

Heirloom treasures extend into their (antique) closets. Their collection of solid gold Mangalorean jewellery, including some stunning haarams and mangamalas – “mostly Mum’s” – can make any Cartier/Bvlgari owner turn a deeper shade of green. But that is where the ‘sharing’ ends. Unlike their synergetic tastes for artifacts, the sisters’ fashion choices differ widely. “We don’t share wardrobes, as our sizes and styles differ,” Dia states. Both women are influenced by their respective professions, when it comes to making wardrobe investments. Dia likes to add a touch of glamour to her dressing, while Anisha is all about colour and classic elegance.

They are pretty democratic about their purchases; high-street, high-end and absolute luxury reside harmoniously in their closets. As do Indian designers and international labels. “Jamini Ahluwalia, Littleshilpa, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Marni, Miu Miu…,” Dia lists her favourite accessory brands. “My heart-shaped Thierry Mugler bag is one of my absolute favourites.” Anisha’s tastes include the arty aesthetics of Emilio Pucci and Varun Bahl, and also the minimalist quirks of Stella McCartney.  “My style is a bit eclectic with a twist,” she observes. “Like a classic beige dress with an antique bracelet.”

With equally choc-a-bloc social schedules, the sisters attend many a high-brow soiree and do their fair share of mingling, which they enjoy, rather than looking at it as a job requirement. They also love playing hostess and are well-known for throwing many an exciting party. “My most fun memories are from our theme parties,” Dia says. “Barbecues around the pool, exotic toga parties….” At their dos, one does not need to drink over the sink or worry about creasing the upholstery; the ladies are all about letting their hair down. “I’m an extremely relaxed hostess,” Anisha reveals. “We have a casual entertaining style. We like to serve simple, home-made food and wine. Our entertaining starts in a relaxed fashion, but can soon turn quite raucous!” A warning, or a teaser? I am intrigued.

And when the party is over, it is family time all the way. “Most of my early evenings are spent at home, as I need my family fix,” Dia admits. Anisha agrees. “We’re a very close knit family with strong bonds. We enjoy lounging together and are constantly poking fun at each other.” The family exercises have embedded an important quality in the Bhandary sisters, which they are aware of and value. “We have grown up being able to laugh at ourselves,” Anisha sums up.

It has been a relaxed day.

I take my leave, expecting to be invited to their next ‘raucous’ do.

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