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April 10, 2013

Creative By Design

Text by Arthy Muthanna Singh. Photographs by Manpreet Singh.

The dynamic mother-daughter duo behind The India Design Forum (IDF) held in Mumbai recently meet with Arthy Muthanna Singh in their Delhi Golf Links home and discuss their love of, well, design. Rajshree Pathy, the country’s sugar baroness and Aishwarya are just what the design doctor ordered!

I should not have been surprised to spot Rajshree Pathy at the launch of the Khoj International Artists Association’s brand new, revamped premises at Khirkee Extension, earlier in the year, in Delhi, but I was. But that was before I knew about her support for the now-famous Khoj Marathon in January 2011. “Art that is edgy….” she had said when we’d met last at her self-designed home in Golf Links, when queried about what moves her.

“I have never studied architecture, but I have a great spatial sense,” she had said, her art-filled living room and working space an apt testimony to that statement.

“I design every home I’ve lived in,” she said. “I know exactly what a particular space would be perfect for. I’ve been right so far.”

One can well imagine this home filled with an eclectic group of creative folk, spilling into the garden through the French windows, bypassing the large-as-life sculptures on the way out. For someone who admires the work ethic of Steve Jobs for having created a market, and for someone who looks up to Madonna for constantly reinventing herself and still staying relevant and ‘not losing the plot’, this mother-daughter duo seem to work pretty well in tandem. And what they have been working on practically round the clock lately is the 2nd Edition of the India Design Forum (IDF), their very own baby, so to speak. Rajshree is hoping it will result in strategic alliances, dialogue between academia and industry and facilitate cross design cultural thinking and application.

While Rajshree usually spends time between Delhi and Coimbatore and daughter Aishwarya between Mumbai and Coimbatore, for the last so many months, all roads have led to Mumbai primarily. ‘What is the future of design and what role will India play in it?’ That was the core issue addressed by the 2nd Edition, held in Mumbai in March this year. Created by the Coimbatore Centre for Contemporary Art (CoCCA), of which Rajshree and Aishwarya are co-founders, the 1st Edition was held in Delhi in March 2012 under the Power of Design platform.

Rajshree Pathy and Aishwarya are from Coimbatore, known more for industries, hospitals and satellite town Tirupur, than for art or design per se. Rajshree in fact, heads the well-known Rajshree Sugars, headquartered in that town. But Aishwarya credits her mother’s design sensibility for her own innate sense of design. Growing up in an unusual-for-Coimbatore home filled with art – Le Corbusier et al, ensured that she definitely knew her design. That, and being surrounded by creative, thinking-out-of-the-box luminaries. Aishwarya also says that she holds Coimbatore close to her heart. Both were born and raised there. Their love for art got them to start Contemplate there in 2009, which, besides having a permanent address, also organises travelling art shows. Aishwarya, who is an artist and a graphic designer has shown in Gallery Nature Morte and Gallery BMB, Delhi, among other places. Being a mother of a two year old, whom she prefers to leave with his grandmother (when she has to travel), who also happens to be her partner in CoCCA and IDF, means a lot of juggling in as far as time and priorities are concerned.

CoCCA, starting later this year, will also be a centre for continuing fine arts education both practical and theoretical, through an interdisciplinary art education experience, offering Post Graduate programmes in Visual Art, Design, Arts Management and Museology. All part of a master plan of Rajshree’s and Aishwarya’s to put Coimbatore quite firmly on the design map of the country.

While the duo share similar favourite international brands that include Cop Copine, Marithé + François Girbaud, fragrances from Firmenich, accessories and bags from Prada and shoes from Christian Louboutin and Limited Edition Jimmy Choo, among Indian designers, Rajshree has a weakness for Rohit Bal, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Jenjum Gadi, while Aishwarya swears by Indo-French label Lecoanet Hemant.

Aishwarya confesses to a weakness for chocolate and red wine while Rajshree picks truffles to treat herself on special occasions and “Nothing like sipping a Bellini cocktail in Venice at Piazza San Marco watching the gondolas go by,” to bust stress. Aishwarya prefers to go diving in the Maldives, while Rajshree finds that meditation works best for her. Her flawless complexion could surely be because of the use of her much-in-demand beauty products from Kama Ayurveda, the company of which she is a partner.

Mother and daughter, while working so much together, have different interests and modes of relaxation. Aishwarya picks Goa or Mexico, while her mother prefers Rajasthan or Tuscany. Blue Frog is where Aishwarya loves to spend an evening while Rajshree would rather attend a cultural do in Delhi. “Listening to Abida Parveen at Humayun’s Tomb has no comparison,” she states. Rajshree relaxes when in Coimbatore with her many dogs, baby-sitting her grandson, enjoying good home food and playing tennis when she can. She also spends time meditating.

Besides, the enterprising duo have taken on the responsibility for the education of a thousand women at the sugar factory in Coimbatore, of organising art awareness programmes and helping unknown artists with their first shows. Aishwarya loves horse riding, views Page 3 culture as ‘just entertainment’ and spends a lot of time writing; she is currently working on a screenplay.

Despite their ‘creative differences’ Rajshree says that they have broadly separate areas of work, with little overlap. Whatever it is that they are doing, it is obviously working, if The India Design Forum (IDF) is anything to go by.

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