Last summer, Merchant had just returned from a holiday in Malta and was going about her daily routine at her Barcelona home-studio, when she received an email from Chloé’s Natacha Ramsay-Levi. Its content would seal the deal in making her the first Indian artist whose work would spill onto Chloé’s S/S 2018 collection. You don’t have to be an art critic to appreciate Merchant’s work—her intricately detailed artworks present a universe rich in colour and inhabited by gender-fluid, anthropomorphised creatures. “I’m interested in how, across cultures, you find the same myths,” says the mythology-obsessed artist. Lately, it’s her cross-continental lifestyle (the Mumbai girl graduated from Parsons before settling in Barcelona) that reflects in her boundary-blurring art. In Where The Water Takes Us (2017), which opened at Mumbai’s Tarq gallery, the sea (a commonality between Mumbai and Barcelona) becomes a running motif, while the figures remain free of gender and ethnicities. Like most art, her work is a reaction to contemporary issues. In the past, her art triggers have ranged from the 2013 Shakti Mills rape that shook Mumbai to the migration crisis haunting Europe and the world. Up next, she plans to continue her exploration in the refugee crisis: “Living here, I can’t ignore that. I’m now looking at what you leave behind when you’re displaced. So it’s the idea of longing and belonging,” she adds.
Online trolling is an ugly side-effect of the digital age, and the one instance that comes to mind is the onslaught against Gurmehar Kaur after she came out with an online placard campaign that read, “I am a student of Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone…” protesting campus violence, in 2017. The campaign and the subsequent online abuse from fringe elements that came her way soon took over primetime news. Was she really not scared? “I was scared how it would affect my personal life and my college life. But I took a little break from everything, and realised I had to create a narrative for myself. Why should I let anybody else tell my story, when I can do the same? So I decided I’d start writing about everything that happens and not let 10 million media houses do that for me,” recalls Kaur. Her newspaper articles led to her memoir, Small Acts Of Freedom, a cross-generation tale spanning 70 years. She’s now become a bit of a champion for outspokenness; Time magazine called her a “free speech warrior.” A former national-level tennis player, she calls Maria Sharapova her idol (“I spent so much time emulating her work ethic and on-court mentality, I feel like I developed those characteristics”) and swears by Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). While her interests are varied, she’s sure of one thing—her future lies in public service, where she’ll keep writing and speaking up.
Bangkok’s Gaa has an unusual ritual before any big-ticket service. In chef Arora’s culinary territory, there are no fever-pitched orders or manic mise en place scenarios; instead, Cardi B is invoked to put the team at ease. “We end up playing that in the kitchen,” laughs the Mumbai-bred, Noma-trained, former Gaggan sous chef. At 30, Arora helms her own kitchen and has already worked with the best—Gordan Ramsay, René Redzepi and Gaggan Anand, to name a few. Her food mission is simple yet ambitious: “India has one of the most complex and oldest food systems, but we’re obsessed with what the world is cooking. We need to talk about our techniques, flavours and ingredients. I want to document that and leave some knowledge for future chefs.” Inside her bright yellow eatery, everything is sourced locally and made from scratch—even the cheese, butter and soy sauce. “The only thing missing was oil, but we have an oil press coming,” she adds. Gaa’s tasting menu explores the India-Thailand connection through flavours, so a road trip on the new India-Thailand highway is on her bucket list: “There has to be some great food history there.”
The first thing that Karyna Bajaj notices while eating out is the camaraderie between the staff. “The way you’re greeted, or how the team interacts, speaks a lot about a space. If they’re happy, motivated and love what they do, you’ll always have a great dining experience,” she says. Bajaj should know—at age 25, she runs six restaurants across India. Born to a food-focused family—her father Kishor Bajaj brought Michelin-starred Hakkasan and Yauatcha to Mumbai—Bajaj’s ascent in hospitality came steadily: “I interned at Ka, going through different departments from HR to supply chain to even learning to make dim sums,” she recalls. Today, besides Hakkasan and Yauatcha, she’s also focused on the financial and business strategy of two other breezy eateries in Mumbai—Nara Thai and its Italian neighbour, CinCin. Her role as the young scion is in offering a fresh perspective to luxury dining by making it accessible to millennial diners—from limited-edition food menus to collaborations with fashion designers and visits from global chefs, she’s done it all. “Next, I want to take my chefs to the world,” she says. “And bring to India chef Akmal Anuar of Dubai’s 3fils, who makes magic on the omakase bar.”
When Ruchika Sachdeva was announced the winner of the International Woolmark Prize for womenswear earlier this year, few were surprised. One cannot really talk about the present and future of Indian fashion without talking about Sachdeva and her label, Bodice. For a brand steeped in a quieter visual aesthetic—crisp, modern wardrobe staples whose genius is apparent on closer inspection—this was a good global validation, given that Bodice was set up only seven years ago. On home turf, she’s already won several industry accolades, including the Vogue India Fashion Fund in 2014. “I wanted my design to contribute to a new language for traditional Indian crafts and hand-weaving and also challenge prevailing ideas of what Indian fashion is, or has the potential to be. I like to introduce subtle details where form follows function, like knife pleats that allow for movement and let me play with the dynamics of geometry and colour,” she says of the premise with which she set up Bodice in 2011. The Woolmark International Prize in Florence this January also led to the launch of Bodice Studio, her premier line that incorporates luxury fabrics and more intensive techniques. The year continues to be quite eventful—she plans to showcase the S/S collection of Bodice Studio in London and Paris next month. They’re also moving into new headquarters in Delhi, “a radical space that would allow us to invite men and women into our world to showcase the work we do by experimenting with alternative formats of presentation.”
IF YOU STUDY REVOLUTIONS AROUND THE WORLD, YOU’LL SEE IT’S THE YOUNG PEOPLE WHO ARE AT THE FOREFRONT
The one thing Trisha Shetty has in common with Malala Yousafzai, Yara Shahidi and Emma Gonzalez is that they all represent a generation of under-30 women change-makers. “If you study revolutions around the world, you’ll see it’s the young people who are at the forefront,” says the law graduate who, in 2016, became one of the UN Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2015, she launched SheSays, an NGO that fights violence against women by providing education and legal, medical and psychological support. In just three years, Shetty has represented India on platforms from Guatemala to Geneva and found support from the likes of Mark Ruffalo and Emmanuel Macron. One of her most successful projects was the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Curriculum, designed to engage students at schools and colleges. Lately, she’s been busy advocating for tax-free menstrual hygiene products, through her campaign Lahu Ka Lagaan. “We hope the government drops the tax and implements schemes to promote menstrual hygiene. If we win, it wouldn’t be a bad legacy to leave behind.”
It would have been an interesting back-and-forth—from pellets, muzzle velocity and decimal points to Émile Durkheim, Max Weber and Karl Marx. For Chandela, the 10m air rifle champion, it’s an alternating she managed without difficulty—the former Sociology student points out that shooting came much before college, when she was 11 years old. Chandela, who recently bagged a medal at the 21st Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast (she also won the gold in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow), is considered one of the brightest young stars in individual sport in India; she won her first gold at the National Championships in 2012, following it up with two medals at the 35th Intershoot competition in the Netherlands, before qualifying for the Rio Olympics. It’s a lot of bling for a 25-year-old. “I took up shooting in 2008, after Abhinav Bindra won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics,” says the Arjuna Award recipient. In competitive sport, where winning—or not—comes down to a decimal point, how does she focus? “Shooting has a lot to do with the mind. You need to have nerves of steel. I practise yoga and meditation. Along with that there is also the physical training, and the game requires you to be technically strong,” she says. How does she pick herself up after a bad day? “I try to stay neutral. It’s a game at the end of the day. All I do is try to give my best on that given day and hope that my best is enough.”
If you’ve experienced the benefits of a red ginseng Korean face mask minus a trip to Seoul and not suffered the heartbreak of visiting your favourite make-up store, only to be told (again) that they’ve run out of Ruby Woo, it’s probably because of Nykaa. Few consumer products have been as dependent on brick-and-mortar as beauty products; one shade of foundation, after all, is often the difference between perfect, ashen and Morticia Addams. For the Yale and Harvard Business School alumnus, who helped mom Falguni set up the beauty e-retailer, creating a global beauty brand from India was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. She’s currently looking at brass tacks again—physical stores. “We started as an e-commerce company but we want to have a physical footprint. We’re already at 16 stores; and we’ll be at 50 by March,” says Nayar. “Offline, I want to reinvent the way people buy beauty. It’s not about sale, sale, sale; it’s about education and experience. That’s the way I’m training my staff—yes, I want you to sell, but I absolutely want to know how many makeovers you’re giving in a day, how many trials you’re enabling.” While Nykaa has already made K-beauty a part of your skincare regimens, next up could be the beauty secrets from the land of cherry blossoms.
Rupi Kaur is so famous, she’s never had a business card. The numbers are staggering—Kaur has 2.5 million followers on Instagram (she follows none) and her debut book sold as many copies worldwide (and was translated into over 30 languages). Her October release, The Sun And Her Flowers, sold over 4,00,000 copies in just nine weeks. Her popularity has stirred up debate on what constitutes poetry and whether her bite-sized poems are literary enough. “Everyone faces criticism. My concern is to create the art of my dreams and have the best time doing it,” she says. Love or hate her, she’s definitely a key player in the Insta-zeitgeist. Her brand of simple and relatable poetry addresses themes like body positivity, heartbreak and abuse. At her readings, reactions range from laughs to sobs to swoons. In turn, her fans push her to go on: “They bring raw and vulnerable stories—stories of strength and resilience.” On stage, she’s made fashion a part of her expression—at her UK tour she wore designers like Anita Dongre, Payal Singhal and Amit Aggarwal: “Styling myself was so fun,” says Kaur. “Every part of my life is now an opportunity for expression and this desire comes from feeling silenced for so many years. Growing up, most of my clothing was hand-me-downs from boy cousins. I suffered from low self-esteem and just wanted to disappear. This is why, now, fashion is so important for me—it makes me feel visible in a positive way.”
When Bose started her company Black Baza Coffee, it was to keep the growers and responsible production at the centre of the process. “Coffee is a major land-use in the Western Ghats. If you are interested in conservation in this biodiversity hotspot, you can’t really avoid being curious about coffee,” says Bose, who did her PhD at Cambridge in sustainable certifications in coffee. Currently working with 500-plus coffee growers across Karnataka and Kerala, Black Baza Coffee works to provide growers training and build capacity, and then markets their product. The coffee is grown under the shade of indigenous trees, is pesticide-free, with a thrust on soil conservation and restoring ecosystems; the packaging is eco-friendly; and the customer is made aware of the provenance of the beans. It’s a multipronged approach, where the coffee is both the means and the end. It was fieldwork in the forests of Karnataka, and her encounters with displaced Adivasis who were forced into cultivating coffee, that illustrated the importance of complementing theory with practice. “I realised that what motivated me, more than scientific publications, was to be impactful.”
PHOTO: NISHANTH RADHAKRISHNAN (GURMEHAR); JAROSLAW PAJEWSKI (GARIMA); SUSHANT CHHABRIA (KARYNA). STYLIST: ARADHANA BARUAH (GURMEHAR); PRIYANKA KAPADIA (KARYNA). HAIR: AMANENDER SIDHU (GURMEHAR); MARCELO PEDROZO/TOABH MANAGEMENT (KARYNA). MAKE-UP: AMANENDER SIDHU (GURMEHAR); RIVIERA VAZ/ANIMA CREATIVE MANAGEMENT (KARYNA). LOCATION: KARMA STUDIOS, DELHI; SNOWBALL STUDIOS, MUMBAI. ON GURMEHAR: BELL-SLEEVED COTTON BLOUSE, PRE-DRAPED SARI WITH POCKETS; BOTH PEELI DORI. ON KARYNA: DRESS, MAJE. EARRINGS, ANOMALY. RINGS, MISHO. SHOES, SAM EDELMAN. PHOTO: COURTESY RUCHIKA SACHDEVA; SUSHANT CHHABRIA (TRISHA). STYLIST: PRIYANKA KAPADIA (TRISHA). HAIR: MARCELO PEDROZO/TOABH MANAGEMENT (TRISHA). MAKE-UP: RIVIERA VAZ/ANIMA CREATIVE MANAGEMENT (TRISHA). LOCATION: SNOWBALL STUDIOS, MUMBAI. ON TRISHA: SKIRT, HEMANT & NANDITA. EARRINGS, AMRAPALI. SHOES, CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN. PHOTO: NISHANTH RADHAKRISHNAN (APURVI); SUSHANT CHHABRIA (ADWAITA). STYLIST: ARADHANA BARUAH (APURVI). HAIR: AMANENDER SIDHU (APURVI). MAKE-UP: AMANENDER SIDHU (APURVI). LOCATION: KARMA STUDIOS, DELHI. ON APURVI: FLORAL BLOUSE, PINSTRIPE SUIT; BOTH BERSHKA. LEATHER SANDALS, CLARKS. PHOTO: COURTESY RUPI KAUR; SUSHANT CHHABRIA (ARSHIYA). HAIR: MARCELO PEDROZO/TOABH MANAGEMENT (ARSHIYA). MAKE-UP: RIVIERA VAZ/ANIMA CREATIVE MANAGEMENT (ARSHIYA). LOCATION: SNOWBALL STUDIOS, MUMBAI ■