Rajshree Pathy was just 17 when she bought her first painting, a 3x3 oil on canvas by MF Husain for 18,000. But the initiation into art had started much earlier. The chairman and managing director of Rajshree Sugars and Chemicals grew up in a house which was full of art, antiques and books on design and architecture. “My mother was exceptionally creative,” recalls Pathy. It’s obviously an inherited talent. The sugar baroness not only has an art collection that is the envy of many in the corporate world, she is also the founder of the India Design Forum (IDF) and is setting up the Coimbatore College of Contemporary Arts (CoCCA).
Pathy’s interest in art shows a distinct leaning towards contemporary Indian artists, be it works in oil, sculptures of even installations. Her homes in Delhi and Coimbatore are filled with works from her collection, painstakingly built over the past couple of years and include walls covered in Madhubani artwork and Kerala murals, paintings by Rameshwar Broota and Rekha Rodwittiya to a larger-than-life bust by Ravinder Reddy and installations by artists like A Balasubramaniam.
Now, she’s working on spreading the love for art and design. Pathy started the India Design Forum to highlight how design can change people’s lives. The 10-day event in March this year focused on sustainable design. It included design exhibitions and curated events at various venues in New Delhi and also had two days of talks by some 50 acclaimed design experts from India and around the world. “Design is not just about fashion or luxury, but most people, including corporates, don’t seem to realise that design is inherent in everything, from tea cups to offices, from furniture to automobiles,” Pathy says earnestly.
The other venture, the multi-disciplinary CoCCA, is particularly close to the Coimbatore-based Pathy: her pet peeve is that mid-sized towns in India don’t have sufficient access to arts and design education — there’s no state infrastructure to promote the arts or a creative industry and environment in which to promote them. “We are a very creative nation but my sharp criticism has always been that, even as parents, we don’t encourage our children to be in any creative field — we only want them to be doctors and IT engineers,” she points out. Incidentally, daughter Aishwarya is a trained graphic designer and co-founder of CoCCA and IDF, so Pathy’s obviously walking the talk.
When she’s not haunting art galleries and museums around the world, or running her 831-crore company, Pathy indulges her other passions: yoga, Ayurveda, photography and scuba diving. She’s a certified advanced diver who’s been jumping off the coast in Maldives for over 20 years now. “I have been going there since the days when the resorts were basic and no Indian set foot there,” she says. “When I am 90 feet under the water, I am most intimately connected with the universe.” β