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November 23, 2016

Take A Tour Of Amruda Nair’s Art-Filled Mumbai Home

Text by Huzan Tata. Photographs by Radhika Raj

The hotel heiress, who splits time between Doha and Mumbai, talks about the rush of living in two countries

We walk through the majestic gates of The Leela Mumbai, enjoying its expansive beauty as we proceed towards the main hotel building. But nothing prepares us for what lies beyond — hidden away behind the hotel parking lot is the bungalow where the Nairs live, dark green creepers trailing down the sides of the building. An equine sculpture greets us just before we step through the large wooden doors while large porcelain vases guard the entrance. The winding staircase, where an intricately woven red velvet carpet regally adorns the wall, leads to the first floor. Waiting for us here, in a black skirt and houndstooth jacket, is Amruda Nair, Leela heiress and presently joint managing director and chief executive officer of the Qatar-based Aiana Hotels and Resorts LLC, that’s set to launch its first property in India in the next quarter.

“My mother and I share a passion for art and a lot of the paintings and sculptures you see around are from our travels. That’s one thing that we’ve always had in common. She pretends to listen to my opinion when picking out these things, but it’s pretty much all her!” explains Nair about the acquisition of the beautiful artefacts surrounding us. We’re sitting in the living room, and while Nair elegantly poses for our camera, I spend my time looking around the space, where hues of yellow, gold and cream abound. I spot paintings by stalwarts like Gieve Patel and Nayanaa Kanodia, several East-Asian works from Japan and China, and a modernist sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi. The piles of books neatly arranged on glass tables under a gorgeous chandelier — from tomes on Mughal architecture, Raja Ravi Varma and Anjolie Ela Menon, to titles on travel, Indian culture and old Bombay — reveal that the family takes their passion for art and culture quite seriously.

Says the Nair scion, who divides her time shuttling between Mumbai and Doha every month, “Our home in India has more of a traditional set-up. My house in Doha is very modern. It’s a cosy two-bedroom apartment overlooking the sea, and I made sure that I got a big enough place so people are forced to come and visit! I constantly have someone from home staying with me. A lot of art from India and other parts of South Asia like Pakistan and Sri Lanka adorn my walls. Even for my office in Doha, I’ve taken a lot of Indian art back with me.” Does she have a favourite corner in her Doha apartment? “It would be one particular couch in my room on which I do all my reading. Everything is perfect in terms of lighting, and I have a warm blanket too.” Currently reading No Country by Bangladeshi author Kalyan Ray, the hotelier enjoys her share of business- and finance-themed books, while her mother is her filter for fiction titles.

Nair, who grew up “in a hotel space” has travelled the world since her younger days. She studied in the Netherlands, UK and USA, worked in Singapore, and handled projects in Vietnam, Thailand and Japan, after which she joined her family business. And now she endeavours to create the same magic with her own brand, Aiana. “It’s about taking an Indian-inspired lifestyle brand to destinations that Indians are travelling to or where it resonates with the local community. We’ve got a modern Indian spa concept as well. The entire philosophy of the brand is driven by an Indian ethos. Everything that I do is about representing my country on a world platform,” says this global girl. And what’s her defined role in the company? “Currently I call myself ‘chief everything officer’! My role is more on the entrepreneurial side — finding new opportunities for the business, building relations with future partners and developers. I’m the face of the brand until we have a hotel that’s operational. Building a team that supports you and brings in the skill sets that you don’t have is important.”

Though her new pet project keeps her busy, Nair does make time, in both her homes, to occasionally unwind. When in India, it’s most likely some well-deserved family time and a platter of home-cooked South Indian fare that she craves, while it’s water sports that she loves to pursue in Doha. “They’ve got beautiful beaches, clear turquoise-blue water and lots of lagoons, so I kitesurf when I’m there. There’s a beautiful corniche, so if it’s too hot to go out to the water, I end up running in the evenings. Doha is my detox location,” she shares, sipping on her green tea.

A life divided between two countries and a job that requires constant travel must be challenging to manage, I enquire. But Nair seems to love living in the fast lane. “I think it’s one of the benefits of being single. I’m in that particular phase of life where it’s my work or my passion for sport that drives me…. I have the luxury of choosing what I want to do and when I want to do it, so from that perspective there’s no pressure. I enjoy it!” But being the head of a new company can’t be without its hurdles, I ask. “I think from a business start-up perspective, you don’t want to say no to opportunities so you end up chasing every rabbit. But I think the biggest challenge is just to stay driven…to stay true to what you set out to do and not get carried away in taking on more than you can.”

Dreaming of taking Aiana to Maldives, London, and India’s top locales like Goa and Jaipur, Nair is raring to see her brand reach the pinnacle of success. While we chat about her venture, I am taking in the beauty of the paintings that surround us (a Japanese artwork has become my favourite) and I wonder which item in her house she would never wish to let go of. “I’m not too big on material things. The three things I’d never leave would be my pets, my books and some art. A lot of it, especially from South-East Asia, I bought early in my career. Every time I’d do well and get a bonus, I’d spend it on art. It may not be expensive, but it’s important to me because it’s linked to a place that I worked in; it’s linked to an achievement from a work perspective. I’d take all that with me and nothing else!” As for me, I have already added a few things from the room to my dream house wish list.

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