Meet some of the most creative, scientific and entrepreneurial minds in the city who have changed the way Bangalore is widely perceived—from a laid- back town popular for its great weather and genteel people into a vibrant hub of technology, art, commerce and fashion. Building empires and brands, negotiating global strategies or brokering peace is all in a day’s work, say our Bangaloreans of substance.
By Jackie Pinto.
After diplomatic stints in Portugal, USA, Nepal, Brazil, South Africa, Austria, and Thailand, later in Delhi as Deputy National Security Advisor, Latha Reddy returns to her deep Bangalore roots after 38 years. Roots that span six generations, covering Hoodi village near Whitefield to Cunningham Road. Between reconnecting with old friends, travelling overseas on cultural missions, engaging in think tanks and civic platforms like BPac and stepping up as trustee of Bangalore Little Theatre, she shares a couple of her most memorable anecdotes and experiences.
25 years ago as a young liaison officer for Yasser Arafat on his visit to Delhi, as I bid him farewell, he blessed me in the traditional Arab manner and deeply touched me with his humility and spontaneous charm.
I helped restore our diplomatic relations with South Africa after a 40-year gap and witnessed Nelson Mandela’s Presidential inauguration.
As India’s first consul general in Durban, when the first Indian naval ships visited officially, the South African navy chief saluted our flag and their navy band played our national anthem. It was a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi in place of the discrimination he faced earlier as an Indian.
My comfort zone is my home.
I always take first time visitors to Sunnys, Lalbagh and MTR.
Of my travel experiences, I can never forget a balloon ride over the Bagan temples in Myanmar at dawn.
I witnessed the historic handshake between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in Beijing in 1988. The then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s warmth and intelligence was very impressive.—Nirupama Rao
Civil servant and diplomat from age 22, foreign secretary, and ambassador of India to major countries like the United States and China, Nirupama Rao is currently a fellow of the India Initiative at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University in America working on a book project on the India-China relationship leading up to the conflict of 1962. “I chose the topic because I worked on China in the MEA and also served as Ambassador of India to the People’s Republic of China between 2006 and 2009,” she begins. Rao recalls a varied, enriched childhood thanks to her army dad who moved his family across India, “with happy moments spent eating ‘three-in-one’ ice cream at Kwality’s Restaurant at Hazratganj in Lucknow and imbibing the historical sights of that city—where my love of history was born.” “Bangalore was another town, another place, literally in those days: a paradise of verdant trees and glowing gardens, green gabled houses, and quiet roads,” she recalls, describing how her life was later defined by ‘the Foreign Service’, where she was ‘catapulted into a world that allowed me to experience a variety of cultures, witness history being made on many occasions, and make lasting friendships across the globe’. As a diplomat, constantly meeting historical and eminent personalities some memories stand out strongly. “I witnessed the historic handshake between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in Beijing in 1988. Or meetings with the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, her warmth and impressive intelligence.” Rao is also known for her impromptu jazz concerts and her poetry. She leaves us with lines from her poem Samarkand. Night time has ghazals wafting in stillness.
A train of couplets leaving Andalusia Speeds like a rocket over North Africa Berber sands Weeping over Sir Daria Into Samarkand, where we sit Our Urdu and English Making sense of each other, Even as realization glimmers That, we are little morsels Tossed by the history of these parts.
Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw
I manage risk very well. I do not make wild bets. I plan futuristically and I operate with a lot of hope and confidence,” begins Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, famously known as India’s wealthiest self-made woman. A moniker she hates, although she admits it validates her incredible success story of “building a global biopharmaceutical enterprise focused on developing affordable life-saving drugs across the world starting from the garage at home.”
“I grew up in Bangalore studying at Bishop Cottons, playing cricket in our gated community, going for birthday parties, shopping at Nilgiris , eating at Koshy’s Parade Cafe, catching a movie at Plaza and picnicking in Cubbon Park near the rocks,” she tells us. Unable to realise her dream of becoming a doctor, Mazumdar-Shaw decided to qualify in Australia as a brew master, and follow in her father Rasendra Mazumdar, a former general manager of United Breweries footsteps. “But I soon discovered brewing was a limited, male-dominated world, so I set up my own company, Biocon. I was a technologist at heart— whether I fermented beer or enzymes,” she smiles.
There was no venture funding in India and banks were not forthcoming at the time, so Mazumdar-Shaw’s business model based on revenues and profits managed to grow from her garage in 1978 to a 20-acre campus in ’83, plus an additional 90 acres of manufacturing facility, later. Along the way, she noticed Bangalore out-grew itself as quickly. “We needed to build a common platform for all the city’s stakeholders—for better governance and quality of life through initiatives like B.PAC. Despite many roadblocks and frustrations, it has in fact, translated into TenderSURE Roads, e-Surveillance and waste segregation. I am especially proud of B.CLIP, a unique incubator program for developing civic leaders of the future,” she says.
Besides her business acumen Mazumdar-Shaw is known for her sleekly tailored style, her penchant for April fool pranks and her enviable art collection which began in 1986 with a Yusuf Arakkal oil. It now spans the works of artists like Van Gogh, Cezanne, Salvador Dali and Picasso alongside MF Husain, Manjit Bawa, Bikash Bhatta charya, GS Vasudev, Sunil Das, Jatin Das, Paresh Maity, Jogen Choudhury and Jamini Roy. From the Biocon diaries
Nobel laureate Harold Varmus once stepped out of his car on Hosur Road and walked to Biocon because of a massive traffic jam!
Nobel laureate Mohamed Yunus at the launch of Arogya Raksha at Biocon said, “I am envious of your micro-health insurance program as I should have done this in Bangladesh ahead of you!”
Responsible for branding Vistara, an exciting new airline to be launched soon by the Tatas and Singapore Airlines, Sujata Keshavan is as Bangalorean as the balmy weather, from her elegantly understatedstyle to her carefully restored 153-year-old office. Graduating from Yale with Masters degree in Graphic Design in 1987 after NID Ahmedabad, she combined her art and science skills to set up Ray+ Keshavan, the very first graphic consultancy in India in 1989, a time when terms like brand identity meant nothing. “People went to ad agencies and shopped for logos.We do much more. We first identify the issue and then figure out if the brand is either stagnating or become irrelevant to younger consumers, like Canara Bank at one point. Or whether it’s going global like Himalaya, where the product was excellent, but the look and feel were not,” she explains.
Today, the Bangalore-based firm is a part of WPP’s Brand Union, a massive global design conglomerate. We catch up with Keshavan between her globe trotting, her visits to Tanqueray, her home in Coonoor, antique shopping sprees at Ramchandras on Kamraj Road, book browsing at Blossoms or stops at Vana, her favourite wellness retreat in Dehra Dun. Keshavan has branded four International airports in the country, and virtually every familiar product or service like Infosys, Kotak, Kissan, Bru, CEAT, Shoppers Stop, Network18, Canara Bank, AirTel and, “It’s immensely gratifying to see my work every 100 metres or so, almost everywhere I go,” she signs off.
Lakshmi Pratury believes that her early life was shaped by the beauty of Telugu poetry and the magic of mathematics. Quitting her job at Intel and her picture perfect life in California, she and her family relocated to Bangalore with a vague idea to explore the Indo-US corridor more imaginatively — an idea inspired by her father, a doctor and freedom fighter. “I quit Intel not really sure what I wanted to do next. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done,” says Pratury who is currently involved with ‘curating speakers for INK 2014, and creating a platform for life changing connections and intense conversations’. INK (innovation and knowledge) is modeled on TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design , a forum for global achievers to showcase their journey through interviews, audience engagements and personal insights, owned by a non-profit, private foundation based in the US and operates under the tagline, “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Pratury first held a similar conference in 2007 in America on a small scale called Aamra Grove. “We brought together 50 of the world’s most influential Indian leaders. Shashi Tharoor co-hosted it with me and we spent an amazing three days of ideating, conversations and fellowship in idyllic surrounds. I was determined to bring the concept to India at least once,” she explains.
The event was such a success that Pratury next co-hosted TEDIndia in 2009, near Mysore, a one-time conference that “expanded TED’s reach into Asia and had nearly 1,000 participants from 46 nations interacting with artists, architects, technologists, business people, musicians, dancers, scientists and social entrepreneurs as well as 100 young TEDIndia Fellows. Then it was time to run things on her own steam.
Following the TED model, Pratury launched INK in 2010 at Lavasa Hill City which has since become a much sought after annual affair. Her upcoming line-up of co-hosts at the Mumbai event next month (October 31 – November 2) ranges from scientist Daniel Kraft and WhatsApp VP, Neeraj Arora to music director, Shantanu Moitra and venture capitalist, Vani Kola.
The Pratury handbook
I learned the art of no-nonsense communication from Andy Grove (ex-CEO of Intel and a management guru). I watched him ruthlessly critique the task at hand and then subject himself to the same critical evaluation.
I learned to tune the artistic eye and pay attention to detail from people like James Cameron, Julie Taymor and Raju Hirani.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama mesmerised me with a child-like quality in his interactions, combined with adult wisdom and ability to let chosen people around him run his life.
My most extravagant moment was being filmed for a video shoot for Intel while flying in a hot air balloon over New Mexico, in a sari. My go-to food and wine pairing is a simple meal at home and an after dinner port.
Ours was a radical household and a hub of social reform. I became president of our student union at St Joseph’s Commerce College, always believing that people in power, who abuse it must be held accountable.—Salil Shetty
SECRETARY General of Amnesty International (the world’s largest, human rights organisation), Salil Shetty believes that human rights are not something gifted from the West to developing countries, but that ideas of basic education and free expression has always been deeply embedded in our psyche. After ‘a painful but crucial session with victims of human rights abuse in Ukraine’, and a meeting with Russian leaders, he is headed to New York to bring the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) into force. Shetty grew up in verdant old Bangalore ‘watching Kannada plays, hanging out with buddies at Corner House and dealing with his journalist dad’s arrests and his mum’s social activism during the Emergency. “Ours was a radical household and a hub of social reform. I became president of our student union at St Joseph’s Commerce College, always believing that people in power, who abuse it must be held accountable.” With a Masters degree from IIM Ahmedabad and the London School of Economics, he quit a cushy job at Wipro to join Action Aid, transforming it into a leading international development NGO. He then served for seven years as director of the UN Millennium Campaign. “It’s not people who sit in London but youth in countries in Africa and Asia who need to make a difference,” he tells us. Amnesty wrote to WikiLeaks, urging it to remove thousands of names from the leaked Afghanistan war logs, and to all 54 political parties contesting the elections in Egypt to adopt a 10-point human rights manifesto. Spearheading the anti-death penalty campaign, facilitating the release of under trial prisoners in Karnataka, helping ensure that migrant workers to the Gulf are not exploited, urging states around the world to implement reforms to help stop torture and demanding that President Obama expedite the closure of Guantanamo Bay despite Congressional opposition are just part of the agenda on his daily schedule.