Dilip and Jacqueline Kapur are like fire and ice. She is a quintessential straight-shooting German who doesn’t mince her words, while Dilip is the more laidback kind, with a lot less to say. He indulgently watches his wife tell it like it is, a tiny smile playing around his lips, as we sit in their elegantly done-up home in Auroville. The home was built one kid at time — it was just one room-and-a-half when Jacqueline moved in. One room was added when their son Milan, who is now 22, was born, and another after the birth of their daughter, Ayesha. They added the terrace after acquiring a wrought iron staircase from an antique dealer with no idea what they were going to do with it. The couple met 26 years ago when Jacqueline came to India as a tourist and was visiting friends in Puducherry. Dilip has lived in Auroville since his family moved there when he was four.
It may be love at first sight for most people, but Jacqueline knew Dilip was going to be the father of her children even before they spoke. Jacqueline is the eternal optimist who believes that things will work out most of the time, while Dilip likes to obsess over details, making sure nothing goes wrong. So, when they started working together at Hidesign — where she started off as the head of the garments business — their contrasting work styles meant a few things got thrown around in the office. With both of them managing different parts of the business, things are safe around the office today. Yet, it’s hard to miss the pride in Dilip’s voice when he points out how Jacqueline has blossomed into her own self and she is quick to acknowledge that with Dilip as her teacher, she was learning from the best. This mutual admiration and respect for each other is what keeps this union rock solid.
When and where did you meet?
Jacqueline: I came to India as a tourist in 1988 and I was visiting another German couple in Puducherry. They told me they wanted me to meet somebody they thought will be the man of my life; I think they told him some hot blonde chick was coming. I still remember what he was wearing — a red shirt, a pair of jeans, a cross-body bag and riding glasses. I was 24 and he, 39. I had studied Japanese. He came up to me and said, “There are a couple of Japanese buyers coming in. I don’t speak Japanese and I don’t know how to communicate with them.” My friend told him that Jacqueline can come and help translate. And yet, those were the only Japanese buyers we have ever had in the history of Hidesign.
What attracted you to each other?
Jacqueline:He came with the subtitle, ‘the father of both my children’. I go with intuition and I had a very strong intuition that he was going to be the father of my children. Though I didn’t tell him that initially because I didn’t want to scare him off.
Dilip: I remember she was very beautiful and very smart, too. It is difficult for me to be around someone who cannot accomplish a lot on their own. She is a very capable person who can get things done and is very courageous.
Jacqueline:He is very intelligent and I always thought intelligent men are sexy. He is also very caring and ambitious. I cannot pinpoint things I like about him. There is obviously a lot I like about him, given that I am still here after 26 years.
What have you learnt from each other?
Jacqueline: I was 24 when I moved to India permanently. It was a Monday. On Wednesday, Dilip took me to the factory and said I was the head of the garments business. Though I didn’t speak Tamil and my English wasn’t perfect, I decided to take the plunge. Dilip was my teacher and I learnt by observing his work and following accordingly.
Dilip:Her people judgement is better and I depend on her for that. Being a great consumer herself, she understands buyers and has a fast and instinctive judgement about what they will like. I am a lousy shopper, so my instinctive judgement on what will sell and what the consumer will like and buy is not that great. I am very brand-oriented and am better at organisation with a focus on the long-term strategy.
Jacqueline: I am the eternal optimist. I will throw myself into cold water and hope to swim through. What I have learnt from Dilip is to be cautious and look at what could go wrong. But I am still the one who says it is going to be okay.
What keeps you together?
Dilip: A relationship like ours wouldn’t have lasted if both of us were not busy and active. We are pretty hot-headed and ambitious. It was very important that she be very involved in the business. She has been able to do things very successfully in her style and has truly blossomed that way.
Jacqueline:It is not always easy working together and there are times when I have thrown things around in the office. We have had our differences. While both of us are working together on the final goal of the company, it is better now that we oversee separate areas.
Are your working styles different?
Dilip:I am more detail-oriented. Sometimes I may get too focused on too many details. But anything concerned about the brand has to go past me — even the graphics and communication. I am very particular about that.
Jacqueline: I strongly believe that spending 10-12 hours doing the same thing makes you less productive. I am good at multi-tasking and can accomplish a lot more in less than 10 hours. I leave office at around 4.30 pm to go to my riding school, where I ride and teach children, and come back home around 8 pm. I don’t see the need to give up time for my passion — my kids, horses or my friends — just because I run a business. I actually try and make myself the least important to my business so that things function smoothly when I travel. One of the guidelines for people who want to work for me is that you pretend that the business is yours and decide what you would do then. Taking ownership makes employees much more responsible. You have to give them the freedom to decide what to do. Most of the time, things will work out. That is why I don’t think I have to look at things as much as Dilip does.
Do you discuss work at home?
Jacqueline:We avoid talking about work because then the working never stops and the fighting never stops. Instead, we talk about our kids and the vacations we are planning.
Dilip: We do take each other’s opinion on work but almost never at home.
Jacqueline: I am not allowed to talk horses either. My children and I ride together; in fact, they could ride before they could walk. Dilip doesn’t ride and horses can be a drag if you are not passionate about them.
Dilip: She is definitely passionate about it and is up at 6 am every morning to go riding.
Are your parenting styles different as well?
Dilip: She is a much more involved parent than I was when the kids were younger. I am interacting with them as they grow older and make the career connection — they come to me for advice. But, growing up, she was the one who was connected with them and was there for them. When it comes to parenting, I trust her completely, so much so that even when I don’t agree with something, I overrule myself and let her do what she wants.
Jacqueline: The only time we disagreed was when Ayesha was offered a role in the movie Black. Dilip felt that she would turn into a spoilt brat if she went down that path. Both he and his family are very academic, so studies are very important to Dilip, and he was worried about Ayesha getting into acting. My dad was a rockstar so I was okay about it.
Dilip: I was okay about Ayesha not going to grad school but not going to college, that’s a lot to get used to. Hopefully, she will, one day.
Jacqueline: He strongly believes that she should have an academic background and I strongly believe that she has to try to be happy. She did get into NYU, so it’s not like she couldn’t get into a college. She will go when she is ready.
Dilip: Indeed, I was disappointed that she got into NYU and didn’t go. In the end, I was overruled and in these matters, I allow myself to be overruled. [Ayesha is moving to Mumbai to pursue a career in films.]
What is your time together?
Dilip: We have breakfast and dinner together whenever we are in town at the same time. I travel about 10 days a month.
Jacqueline: All our holidays have been great. The farthest we have gone is the Amazon, which took us four days to reach. His two sons from his previous marriage are extremely loving towards my children and we go on holidays together.
Dilip:Many of them have been to the Andamans. We love the place so much that we even contemplated buying some land there. Our most recent holiday was to Bordeaux in France — where the food and wine was very good — and it was a lot of fun.
What are some of most standout memories from your journey together?
Dilip:Our wedding on the beach here was the best moment. It was nine years and two children after we first met. Our children were the witnesses for our wedding.
Jacqueline: My son claims it was the best chicken tikka he had ever eaten in his life.