Design and criminology may be strange bedfellows, but Megha Asher tells Subha J Rao that she loves both equally

By day, Megha Asher is a designer, creating the perfect look for her clients. She chooses fabric, creates designs that flatter and adds statement accessories. By night, she dons her criminologist’s hat, sits with her books and research papers and tries to decipher the criminal’s mind, looking at ways to reform rather than punish. The two worlds Megha inhabits can’t be more different. But she doesn’t feel so and is equally passionate about both.

A chance incident, where a student with kleptomania was rusticated, introduced Megha, 29, to criminology. “I always wondered why she did that. She had the money. All she needed was help and understanding.”

Megha pursued a degree in criminology from Griffith University, Australia. Her area of interest was prison reform and architecture. She followed it up with a post graduation in Journalism and Mass Communication at the same university.

But, the initial days of criminology left her drained. “After hours of reading case files and visiting courts, I turned cynical. I felt we had no right to smile because many were in sorrow. It took me a while to keep my personal and professional lives separate,” she recalls.

Design everywhere

About her other avatar, she says she expressed herself in the way she kept house in Australia, the way she dressed and in the way she put together ensembles for herself and others. “People found it hard to believe that it was a student’s house!” she laughs.

Years ago, Megha moved to Coimbatore from Mumbai for her International Baccalaureate at Chinmaya International Residential School. “Then, it was just a city I passed through on my way to school and back home.” After marriage to classmate Pritesh Asher, it became home.

As a student she packed in courses in dance and drawing, embroidery and painting during the summer holidays. “Each one of them helps me today,” she says. “Coimbatore did not offer much scope for criminology, but I wanted to spend my life with Pritesh. My mother and creative partner Jayshree Desai nudged me to explore this side of me. In 2009, I launched my clothing label,” says Megha.

Today, her Megha Asher brand is a popular one, online too, thanks to her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MeghaAsherDesigns). She designs about 50 custom-made pieces every month and sells her stuff in India, Australia, the U.S., Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia and parts of Europe. “I knew nothing about the city. My husband helped me understand it better. I realised early on that customised pieces had a ready market here. The social circle was small. So, whatever I did had to be a unique, one-of-a-kind piece,” she says.

When Megha started off, she did just about 15 pieces every month. She would work closely with clients, coordinate with her “darzi uncles” in Mumbai and deliver a finished ensemble. Now, she also stocks prêt. “For a long time, I never took an advance. Buying garments and jewellery online is a huge leap of faith. It is only fair you respect that faith. And, I’ve had just one bad experience in all these years,” she says.

She soon branched into jewellery and elegant clutches. Her jewellery, all coated in one-gram gold polish, is embedded with pearls, natural stones, semi-precious gems and kundan.

As we speak, Megha gets a call from the darzi uncle who wants to clear design doubts. She refers to a detailed order sheet and replies. “These are people I’ve known for long. They tailored my clothes; now I work with them. They know what I look for and make sure that distance is not a dampener,” she says.

Ready-to-wear range

Megha stocks something for everyone in the well-lit, cosy store inside her house in K.K. Pudur, where clients visit only by appointment (she never meets more than four people a day). For about Rs. 600, you can pick up a pretty ready-to-wear top or a pearl-studded jhumka. In the mid-segment, there are embroidered soft cottons, hakoba fabrics and trousers. There’s a high-end range too — a beautiful cutwork tissue blouse for Rs. 6,000, an ethereal anarkali for Rs. 10,000, and expensive, embroidered saris. But, you can ask for less expensive variants. “No questions asked. Because, exclusive need not mean expensive. I can add a unique cut, a flair here, a patch there…”

Towards evening, Megha whips up cuisine-specific, multi-course meals for her family. It was during one such tryst at the kitchen that she came up with her signature hot chocolate, made using milk, chocolate powder, slabs of chocolate and lots of love. Clients are served coffee or this creamy concoction. “Most enter as clients, and leave as friends,” she smiles.

A passion for crime

Megha has stayed in touch with criminology. She writes for and edits online magazines and journals on the subject and is waiting for the release of her book Indian Prisons: Towards Reformation, Rehabilitation and Resocialisation (Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi). She co-authored and edited this with K. Jaishankar, Tumpa Mukherjee and Priti Bharadwaj. She also delivers talks on cyber crime and juvenile crimes in local colleges.