Pursuit of Happiness

Allianz Investment Management CEO knows how to brush all her worries away

Filling a blank canvas transports Ritu Arora to a world away from numbers

When you give a five-year-old a paint box, you might as well bid goodbye to your spotless walls. Within minutes, every surface of the house will be covered with squiggly lines by the young artist, and their innocent mistake will be followed by hours of your effort to make everything look squeaky clean. But, five-year-old Ritu Arora was an exception. When her mother gifted her a paint box, she let her imagination run wild on paper, not on walls. “Giving that gift to a hyper-energetic kid like me was really brave of my mother,” chuckles the CEO and chief investment officer-Asia of Allianz Investment Management as she recalls how her career could have taken a completely different route if she had chosen fine arts instead of commerce. After much deliberation and a practical mind, she decided to take up commerce but her love for painting did not ebb. After 40 years, she does not regret the decision — and enjoys both equally — the thrill of understanding the volatile capital markets and the calm that comes with creating art. “They are like the yin and yang of my life,” she says.

Amid her busy schedule and frequent work trips to several countries, Arora would dedicate a few hours every fortnight to canvases in her basement cum art studio. “But I realised when I locked myself in there, I lost the little time I had at home with my family,” she says. Now, the bedroom or the living room is her atelier. With her husband Ashish suggesting new ideas and her children Avi and Arnav critiquing her work, she finds it easier to focus on her craft. Instead of a solo session, it has developed into an interactive family activity.  

From portraits and sceneries to still life and abstract art, Arora does not limit herself when it comes to the world of painting. “The possibilities are endless,” she says. Staying true to that philosophy, she has also dipped her toes, or rather fingers, in glass painting, knife painting, etching and embroidery work. But, she enjoys oil painting the most and finds solace when she is working on portraits. Her favourite one is that of a young child she had painted a few years after marriage. “I had met a cute kid who caught my eye and immediately decided to paint a portrait,” she shares. Today, she has over a 100 creations to her name.

It usually takes Arora several months to finish a portrait to the T. But no matter how long it takes or busy she gets, she does not like to leave a painting unfinished. “Leaving things half-done is not me,” she says. Whenever she faces a block, she listens to music or takes a break and revisits the piece later. This very quality of being extremely patient with a painting has also helped her in high-stress situations at her job. The hobby has taught her to be calm and come up with creative solutions. Often, her bosses describe her as a ‘swan paddling away below the surface’ when people around are constantly tense and losing their temper.

Arora’s paintings are proudly displayed on the walls of her house. Sometimes, they find a place in her friends’ houses and offices. “I have never painted for commercial purposes. And I do not plan to do so,” she states, adding, “It is always out of love”. This undying passion for art has also taken her to several museums across the world. “The Red Dot museum in Singapore and the Kiran Nadar museum in New Delhi have some really interesting and inspiring pieces,” she recalls. But, the one that remains the closest to her heart is the Jehangir art gallery in Mumbai. One day, she hopes to fulfill her father’s dream of seeing one of her paintings there. “When I paint my masterpiece, I would like for it to be exhibited there,” she says.