The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pillar of strength

Kalyani Chawla's is a familiar face on the Delhi social circuit. A patron of the arts and fashion, Calcutta girl Chawla (born Kalyani Saha) started life as a marketing executive with several hotel companies and also worked with newspaper houses such as the Indian Express group. A life-long interest in fashion led her to start her own business, exporting accessories to international fashion houses under the brand name Varz Design Studio. She also has an export company dealing with home furnishings called Belle Maison. While these two businesses occupy most of her time today, she also finds time to design her own fashion accessories for her signature line, Kalyani. Though the 'socialite' tag has stuck, Kalyani likes to think of herself as an astute businesswoman and a proud mother to her five-year-old daughter, Tahira-Tara.

With Kalyani, through the good times and the bad, has been her mother Alakananda Saha. She was the one who imbued in her daughter a love of the arts, associated as she has been with artists from all over the country through her work of curating art exhibitions. The mother-daughter duo set up Montage Art, their own art gallery, in the Capital in the late '90s and it has hosted several of the country's best-known artists as well as given a platform to budding talent. The two are the best of friends.

Alakananda on Kalyani

As Kalyani was the first-born of my three children, she was extremely special to me. I still remember how wonderful it felt to realise that I was a mother. When the nurse brought her to me, I felt overwhelmed by the moment and the feeling that I held a new life in my hands. In fact, she was the first child of the family, so she was always thoroughly spoilt and pampered. In spite of that, she never grew up to be selfish or headstrong and she was always a good girl. When her sister was born barely one-and-a-half years later, she never had any of the jealous fits that you would normally expect, and when her brother was born when she was seven, she was a little mother to him. With three small children to take care of, I had my hands full, but Kalyani was always ready to help me with her brother. She was an extremely bright and imaginative child. In fact, when she was all of two years old, she would say that she would grow up to be the queen of 'Sweetland' (she meant Switzerland) and marry 'Prince Charms' (Prince Charming). She was an active child, and in many ways, was quite mature for her age. She used to lecture her younger sister, who wasn't much younger than her, on a variety of things while we laughed at their antics. She always had an artistic bent of mind, and some of her drawings were quite good. She also wrote a diary and it was eminently readable.

I am very close to all my children and Kalyani and I too have always been the best of friends. We can never keep any secrets from each other. When she was a teenage girl, I was the kind of mother who would watch over her like a hawk but she never felt the need to lie to me. Over the years, our attachment and dependence on each other has only grown. She has been through several rough patches in her life, but has emerged a stronger person and a daughter I am proud of today.

Kalyani on Alakananda

I grew up in the warm cocoon of a typical Calcutta joint family, with parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles all milling about in a sprawling old Calcutta house. I feel fortunate to have grown up in the security of that atmosphere ' it was a house full of love and affection.

My mother has always been the solid rock in my life and the person who anchors me to reality. She is a typical Indian mother ' loving, yet a strict disciplinarian ' and above all, one who is ready to sacrifice her own pleasures for those of her children. My earliest memories of her revolve around her forcing porridge down our throats, running around after us with a glass of milk, helping us with homework and making those innumerable scrapbooks. She was always there. I wish I could be half the mother to my daughter that my mother has been to my siblings and me.

My mother is a very creative person, and I have always seen her doing things, whether it is painting, sketching, ikebana or even landscaping our garden. She has magic fingers and till we were about three or four years old, all her children wore clothes stitched by her, something she also did when my daughter was born. She also has a wonderful singing voice and has been professionally trained. My mother could have had a career in music if she had so wanted, but she gave it up for us. It was only after we grew up that she started working professionally in the field of art.

Through all the crises I've been through in my personal life ' the break-up of my marriage, bringing up my daughter single-handedly ' she has been there beside me. Even today, she keeps shuttling between Calcutta and Delhi to look after my daughter and me. I really don't know how I would have coped without her. 'Mere pas maa hai' really sums up my attitude to the world when I have my mother to fight beside me.

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