‘I always wanted to be slightly different, quirky, and never really was concerned about what other people would say. My confidence levels were always very high, but never bordering on arrogance. I believe I used my confidence in a nice way.’
‘I live life on my terms, and looking back, am absolutely happy with how I have lived it. I have no regrets ’
‘For me style isn’t
about being in vogue,
or trendy, but being able to hold your own’
On the day this article publishes, Prabha turns 64, and happily tells me this. As she sits across me, I’m slightly mesmerised by the startling and unapologetically fierce smudge of metallic cobalt blue that runs under her piercing kohl-lined eyes—a metaphor for her life and style.
At the accompanying photo shoot, Sharad Haksar, the photographer, was unable to veer his lens away from a close up of her arresting face. To capture her in black and white seems almost poetic, for a woman who loves colour so much but whose life is lived in no grey areas.
Prabha tells me stories of her earlier corporate avatar: topping the career ladder in the aviation industry, when the glass ceiling was very much a thing in a male dominated industry. Of having to prove herself worthy every day, in every way, and rising to the challenge. All the while of course, dressed, if one could use the term loosely, to kill.
Picture this: you’re a new entrant into a high-ranking job. How do you manage a tight, pre-existing team that views you as an outsider? In Prabha’s words, “When I was hired, my boss pretty much told me I’d be confirmed provided I weather the storm. This was a huge challenge for me… I realised people are wary of outsiders, but you don’t know me to judge me. I was a workaholic, I was meticulous, and people had no option. They got on to my bandwagon in a month.”
It was the 80s, a hedonistic time for working hard and playing hard, and Prabha embodied that period: hours meant nothing till a job was done and done perfectly. She was the first woman sales manager in India in one of the posts she held.
I propose that her statement style, head turning, embellished and impossible to ignore almost seemed a pointed callout to the male dominated corporate conservative style she was surrounded by. She says she never set out to do that, but recalls that during a management seminar, when co-workers were asked to describe each other’s character with a bird, she was identified as a peacock. Although deeply respectful of the powerful position she was in, and the identity it demanded, she managed to stand out.
Fourteen years ago, she swapped her breakneck career in aviation for a life made busy in creating beautiful things, which seems natural, given her past. She now designs a line of bespoke clothing and jewelry, and enjoys it thoroughly.
As we end this series with Prabha, it is clear that style’s outermost manifestation is its least definitive, but most identifiable. Scratch below the surface though, and the qualities that underpin it become clear, and come together to personify a style identity.
We end the series with the striking, timeless PRABHA NARASIMHAN,
in conversation with VENKAT NILAKANTAN