`People make my world'

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Business magnate, art aficionado, designer, and a woman. Rajshree Pathy has many sides to her, discovers SUBHA J RAO

She bought her first painting, an M.F. Husain, at 17, with no idea how she would foot the Rs. 18,000 bill. "The best part was that I did not even know who he was," confesses industrialist and art aficionado Rajshree Pathy. Today, the best names in art decorate her home. And, most artists are her buddies.If art is an important facet of the whole that makes up Rajshree, business is another. Inspired by her businessman father, the late G. Varadaraj, who taught her to be limitless in her thinking, she set up Rajshree Sugars at Andipatti in Theni district in 1990. There were teething problems, but today, the once-backward village with debt-ridden people is a self-reliant community, with some millionaires amongst them.

Tribute to a father

Now, Rajshree is ready to set up a museum in her father's name to ensure the common man has access to art. "Between them, our (Rajshree and husband S. Pathy) grandparents gave this city its education institutions and hospitals. This is my attempt to bring in art. Funds will come. Nothing has been started with tonnes of money. If the vision is good, the universe will support your cause."She wants to rid art of its elitist tag. "Art has to transcend from my personal space. Everyone should have access to art in a public space," she adds. As for juggling so many different passions, she says: "I am a multi-tasker, and my greatest strength is having wonderful people in my life." Creativity drives her. "I apply it in various facets. One of which is business. Once it stops being a creative process, it stops exciting me," says Rajshree, who has designed her low-maintenance, artefact-rich home where the modern gracefully blends with mythological murals.Travelling as much as she does (she lives out of Delhi, Chennai and Coimbatore), she says home is no longer a physical space. "People make my world." How was it growing up as the daughter of a visionary? "Wonderful. Home was full of people 24 x 7. Politicians, artists, friends ... there would be laughter and food. It was a great education. From my mother, I learnt to be a good hostess." These interactions probably created an affinity for the arts. Even today, Rajshree derives pleasure from being around creative people.

Life's like that

And, having seen sorrow early (her father's sudden death, brother-in-law Karivardhan's demise in an air crash, and her mother losing her memory six months after her dad's death), Rajshree says she knows the value of life. Her most heart-breaking moment was when her once-doting mother asked her who she was.

Keeping alive a dream

Setting up a sugar mill when the industry was going through a bad phase was not easy. "Once dad died, the bankers wondered what this 31-year-old was going to do. But, I was my father's daughter, and I could not let his dream fail," she recalls. Later, she went on to become the first woman to head the Indian Sugar Mills Association.Keeping the mill afloat required lots of time away from home. How did she cope? "My husband has respected my need to be an individual. I have deep affection for him. We share a very unconventional relationship."Once Rajshree got things under control at Andipatti, she looked at setting up a sugar factory in Vietnam. Those days were among her happiest, though the project did not take off.

Hands-on mom

And, she raised her kids, Aishwarya Lakshmi and Aditya Krishna, in between all this. "They went to a residential school; but holidays were spent in office and longer ones in Andipatti," she says. Does success mean just a good balance sheet? "No. I like to see my work translate into people's well being. Success should not be confined to me." Are her many roles in conflict with each other? "No. I think we are happiest when we don't have to do anything to prove a point. You have to be happy in your skin; do things that are natural to your grain."As for handling freedom, she admits it is difficult. "To be a woman in a man's world, and continue to celebrate the feminine is both a struggle and a challenge."




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