Art for the Home and Hearth, Business Line, Oct 2013

This article, published in the Home & Style supplement of The Hindu Business Line, talks about how art is making its way into more homes, including those in middle-class and salaried families. The focus is on the change in people’s attitude towards art, and a growing inclination towards spending more on different forms of art. Interviews with an art collector, a gallery owner, and the owner of a boutique that sells home decor items, are woven in. Also, a box story provides tips for the first-time collector on how to select/ buy art pieces.

Janaki Hrishikesh, a Chennai resident, still remembers the first painting she brought. “It was a scene of Krishna’s rasaleela. We had just bought a house and were looking to decorate it. The painting practically drew us to it,” she says.

Back then, in 1997, she paid Rs 1,500 for the piece, which measures 12” by 36”. Over the years, she has decorated her home with varied forms of art — from paintings and murals to masks, applique and embroidered works.

Until a couple of decades back, art was considered the forte of the rich, especially those who lived in big houses with ample space to display their collections. The scene has changed considerably — now, even middle-class, salaried families are keen to invest in art. Moreover, spending has increased as well. Janaki says she spends up to Rs 10,000 for a painting, and up to Rs 2,000 on a craft item such as a mask if it is exceptional. She adds that she is willing to put down even Rs 50,000 to Rs one lakh for pieces made of marble or wood

(The article continues – read it in full at the Business Line website: Art for the Home and Hearth)

(Box story: Tips for the novice collector)

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In The Driver’s Seat, Business Line, May 2013

An article on Hyundai’s CSR initiatives, notably their ‘driving school’ which trains school dropouts from rural areas to become full-fledged drivers – free of cost. The company also runs a programme that trains young girls from rural areas to become nursing assistants. These initiatives have helped provide youngsters from backward economic circumstances with a chance to move forward in life. Some of the graduates from the driving school have become entrepreneurs, while some of the girls who became nursing assistants are now thinking of studying to become full-fledged nurses. The article was published in (The Hindu) Business Line in the Weekend Life section on May 2, 2013.

They are all like crude oil when they come in, and we have to do the refining and extract the petrol!” says K. Sridar, in charge of corporate social responsibility at Hyundai’s car manufacturing facility at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, waving at the 20 boys seated before him. Some of the boys smile, probably at the mention of ‘petrol’, but their faces register curiosity at my presence in their ‘school’.

The classroom wall is lined by charts containing road symbols and driving instructions; a mock traffic light stands next to the blackboard.

Most of the boys are high school dropouts from the neighbouring villages. Unable to land a decent job and told off by their family for being idle, they enrolled in this 45-day course fully paid for by Hyundai.

(The article continues – read it in full at the Business Line website: In The Driver’s Seat)

When ‘service tax’ serves no purpose, BL On Campus, April 2013

What do we pay a ‘service’ tax or charge for, when we go to a restaurant? Apparently for the intangible ‘service ‘ element by the staff – which I find lacking in several restaurants in Chennai, the city where I live. The lack of concern for this basic element of business was reiterated to me in a stark manner, thanks to the rude behaviour of a cashier at a take-away counter. It was bad enough that a staff could get away with treating a customer badly. What makes it worse is the lack of a channel where by a customer can ask for their rightful due. The article was published in The Hindu Business Line – On Campus on April 14, 2013.

Last Saturday, I left office later than usual, and decided to pick up my dinner from a fast food outlet along the way.

The place was packed with people, and while I waited behind three or four people at one counter, I saw a man sneak past everyone, say something to the cashier, hand over money, and take his food.

A couple of people grumbled but that was all. When it was my turn, I placed my order and then asked the cashier why he had allowed someone to cut through the queue.

“Oh, that man has parked his car in a No Parking zone outside, so I helped him out,” came the nonchalant reply, accompanied by a defiant stare.

“So, the rest of us should also park our cars in No Parking zones to be served? I have an auto waiting for me – does that give me the right to push past other people?” I retorted.

“You are talking as if I gave him some privileges because he is my relative. What’s the big deal?” the cashier replied aggressively

A few minutes later, when I asked for the manager, he came forward. But until I asked for him, he didn’t bother to tell off his staff for being rude to a customer.

Anyway, he apologised and said he would take necessary action – and took down my phone number with the promise of informing me about it as well.

I have yet to receive the promised phone call.

(The article continues – read it in full at the Business Line On Campus website: When ‘service tax’ serves no purpose)

“I am envious of their freedom”, BL On Campus, Dec 2012

On December 16, 2012, in New Delhi, a young girl was gang-raped in a moving bus and brutally beaten up. Her friend – a guy – was also subject to a brutal physical attack. The two of them were dumped, naked and severely injured, on the side of a road. The incident sparked outrage across India, and several hundred protestors took to the streets, demanding justice for the girl (who was battling for her life). The incident showed how unsafe women feel even in modern Indian metros. Several people took to blogs, twitter and the printed word to express their feelings – this article is my take on the issue. The article was published in The Hindu Business Line – On Campus on December 26.

Over the past few days, my Facebook home page is rife with messages of gratitude posted by friends who live in Singapore, thanking their stars that they live in a country where they can go out any time of day or night, without fear of any sort.

One of them talked about how she went for a late-night snack with a friend at 2 a.m., and then walked home. “Wonder how many nations, even developed nations at that, can offer this haven?” she wrote. Another friend posted: “As I returned home early this morning from a Christmas party, in party gear, I reflected that at no moment did I feel unsafe.”

As I read the messages, I feel envious of their freedom.

(The article continues – read it in full at the Business Line On Campus website: “I am envious of their freedom”)

Agenda 75, Business Line, Nov 2012

An article on India@75, based on an interview with Bhairavi Jani, Executive Director of India@75. Bhairavi, who took a five-year break from her corporate role talks about what holds India back, and where we should focus to get our country on the development track. The article was published in (The Hindu) Business Line in the Weekend Life section.

Bhairavi Jani believes the biggest stumbling block towards development is not lack of resources or skills – it is lack of belief. “The first thing we as Indians need to do is believe in ourselves. We deserve to live in world class cities. Why should we say ‘chalta hai’? Just enough should not be good enough. And that mindset is the biggest roadblock.”

She is not complaining – merely stating facts. Her comment is underlined by her experience as Executive Director of India@75, an initiative started and spearheaded by the late management guru C.K. Prahalad.

(The article continues – read it in full at the Business Line website: Agenda 75)

Bee that as it may, Business Line, Oct 2012

A look into how honey bees have found their way into fashion and art – beginning with a mention of Sarah’s Burton’s bee-themed collection for Alexander McQueen during the recent Paris Fashion Week. The thrust of the article deals the Hyatt Regency Chennai’s honey bee-centric art theme display, which was the inspired by a need to spread the message that honey bees are dwindling in numbers. A box item details the reason as to why the honey bee is an important part of our ecosystem. The article was published in (The Hindu) Business Line on October 26 in the Weekend Life section.

In the recently concluded Paris Fashion Week, designer Sarah Burton showcased models wearing honeycomb-latticed boots, head gear modelled on apiculturists’ hats, and elaborate evening dresses with blooms and bee detailing. As Sarah, who designed Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, said later, “It was looking at womanhood and embracing the female form. I wanted it to feel sensual. I wanted to have a lightness to it and I wanted it to feel erotic but not in an overly fleshy kind of way.”

Closer home, the Hyatt Regency in Chennai recently hosted a three-day fest centred on bee inspired art pieces. About four years ago, Namita Saraf (hotelier Arun Saraf’s wife) and Rajeev Sethi (designer and chairman of Asian Heritage Foundation) were standing at the erstwhile Abbotsbury in Chennai, which was later acquired by the Sarafs’ Hyatt Group. There, they saw huge bee hives hanging from beams that were part of the former structure. Rather than being scared away by the thought of painful stings, Namita wondered “if the bees are telling us something”.

(The article continues. Read the full article at the Business Line website: Bee that as it may & Bee-gone)

Suit yourself, man!, Business Line, Jul 2012

This article was published as a cover feature in the Weekend Life supplement of The Hindu Business Line on 20 July 2012 . Based on an interview with Paresh Lamba, one of India’s top Indian men’s fashion designers, the article talks about his work, the changing face of fashion in India, and why he doesn’t design for women.

What is the best thing a man can wear? According to fashion designer Paresh Lamba, it is a classic suit. He says that’s what women want, too. “I ask women what they think… any woman would say that a man looks best in a suit. A jacket takes a man from ordinary to extraordinary. You could be in a crowd wearing a shirt… you wear a nice suit and suddenly you stand out. I am always telling men, ‘You should have jackets’. Overplay it, don’t underplay it.”

And when Lamba speaks, men listen. One of India’s leading men’s designers, he is sought after by top-notch corporates, actors and even politicians to add a dash of style to their wardrobe. If you thought former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa looked well-attired during the 2010 Global Investors Meet in Bangalore, the credit goes to Lamba.

We meet at his flagship store located on Bangalore’s upmarket MG Road. There is a buzz of energy around him, surely from a passion for what he does. “I enjoy creating something new every day that makes somebody look good. That is my adrenaline,” he says.

He developed interest in fashion at an early age — “I was enamoured by clothes as a kid” — but didn’t plan a career in designing clothes. He found his father’s business, production and distribution of films, “boring” and instead set out to become a shoe designer. “I was going to set up a factory near Delhi. I got my land and loans approved for a joint venture with an Italian company.”

But after a visit to his cousin’s shoe store in Bangalore, he changed his mind in favour of a clothes business. He decided to focus on menswear: “I started going out, meeting people… I saw exquisitely dressed women, but men who needed help.”

That was in the early 1990s — when fashion, let alone couture and bespoke, wasn’t exactly a buzz word on the street. Lamba’s decision was met with scepticism. “My father said, ‘What the hell are you getting into?’” he recalls with a grin.

(The article continues. Read the full article at the Business Line website: Suit yourself, man!)