Rajshree Pathy has spent a lifetime creating and constructing, be it growing Rajshree Sugars and Chemicals Ltd, of which she is chairperson and managing director, representing her industry as president of the Indian Sugar Mills Association, the first woman to head it in 2004-05, promoting Kama Ayurveda products, which she started with three friends, or running a school for tribal children in south Tamil Nadu.
But when it comes to her New Delhi apartment—a funky, edgy statement—Pathy is all about deconstructing, as she likes to call her year-long effort, which is housed discreetly in the most unprepossessing of buildings on the broad, tree-lined sweep of Aurangzeb Road. Hidden from view by prison-like walls and the thick hedges that seem to shield most of the luxury apartment blocks in the Capital and guarded by annoyingly supercilious security men, the rather misshapen complex cannot even begin a conversation with its gracefully colonnaded neighbours in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi.
“I agree that the exterior looks awkward”, says Pathy, “but I chose this area for its location and the security it offers, I feel so much in the centre of things here”. She bought the 3,000 sq.ft, 4-bedroom apartment about three years ago when real estate prices had not yet escalated to present day levels, but has managed to complete the refurbishment only recently.
She spends part of the time in Coimbatore, where the business is based, and where she has a ‘resort-like’ house spread over 25 acres of coconut plantation. In Delhi, she spends her time lobbying for the business, attending concerts, visiting art exhibitions and hanging out with friends. “I love the energy and cosmopolitan nature of Delhi,” she says. “My best friends all live here, so it was important to create a home for myself.”
A home that would reflect her personality and her interest in design and the arts, as well as embody the spirit of a metropolitan city. “All I wanted at 16 was to be an architect,” she recalls, “and I even got admission at the JJ School of Architecture in Mumbai. Do you know, I was so passionate about art that I borrowed money to buy my first Hussain that year for Rs18,000 from Mrs Daruwala of Sarala Art Gallery (the only one in those days) in Chennai. I paid her back over six months!”
An early marriage, two children and the sugar business to run have kept Pathy more than occupied, but certainly her interest in and love for the arts and design is evident in all the spaces she inhabits. “This is very different from my Coimbatore house,” she says, “that is so much more expansive, more subdued, if one can call it that. This is in your face, but that’s the way I want it.” Certainly this is not a space that would appeal to the low-key or the conservative, and between the sensual Rameshwar Broota (a huge untitled oil on canvas that dominates the black dining room wall) and the lifesize marble and resin figure in crucifixion posture by Jehangir Jani, it is more than likely that there will be pauses, not all of them comfortable, in the conversation.
Taking what was earlier a 4- bedroom flat on two levels with a small kitchen, Pathy tore down walls and visually demarcated spaces according to function, to convert it into a spacious 2-bedroom home, with luxurious, attached baths. Lots of clear glass covers large windows, imperative when you consider that the building is so oddly sited that it is almost inimical to natural light. There’s a long and narrow office space, with boudoir-like lighting (all Flos and Artemide), with a glass wall that overlooks the living and dining areas. These three spaces actually play into each other in an interesting succession, though each is sharply defined in character. The drop to the dining area from the living is a not inconsiderable seven feet. “I had to sacrifice some space as I wanted a big kitchen, so the options were kind of limited,” she admits. But the result is a really wide staircase and a café style, 13-foot-long dining table by Nirmala Rudra in luminous mother-of-pearl, offset by a huge lotus leaf and flower sculpture by Suhasini Kejriwal at one end.
Bored of painting walls, she has transformed a small powder room by using printed canvas on the walls and embellishing parts of the wall with small mirrored squares. Many parts of the walls and ceilings in the house are accentuated by mirror work that catches the light in varying moods and at different times of the day. “I got a craftsman from Jaipur to come and work on it using the old ‘sheesh’ (mirror) technique,” she says.
On a casual visit to Sharma Farms, an inexhaustible storehouse for all sorts of antiques—discards, copies, priceless, fake, in Chhattarpur on the outskirts of Delhi, she found some hand-painted wooden panels which have been used as doors, including the main entrance one—and a whole heap of antique Tibetan cabinets that she has ingeniously stacked one on top of another to line an entire wall in her dressing room like a collage of sorts. “It doubles up as art work for the wall and the storage is amazing, it holds everything from belts to shoes to bags, even lingerie,” she says.
Pathy travels a lot and says she keeps accumulating art and collectibles, and her restless energy makes her “always turn this or that around, and change the look,” as she concedes. One doesn’t necessarily have to invest a whole lot of money to make a space look interesting or stylish, as she firmly believes, except, of course, if you’re investing in original art—creating a distinctive home is often a question of knowing where to look and what to look for.
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