9. A GANDHI IN MANHATTAN
INDIAN LIFE & STYLE
She’s more than an Upper East Side socialite living in a townhouse that belonged to Eleanor Roosevelt. Meera Gandhi is a patron of art, promoter of India and a philanthropist, Taani Pande writes.
The sound of scrambling feet and the peals of laughter were a clear indication that the 30 odd children were delighted. More than the cake, it was the treasure hunt that was the cause of their joy. Unearthing huge treasure chests – filled with (fake) gold coins, model airplanes, cars, candy and other knick-knacks – from a dark wine cellar was obviously a thrilling experience.
Meera Gandhi had meticulously planned the event for her son Kabir’s sixth birthday party, while the adults were having a sumptuous time washing down steaming-hot biryani with glasses of chilled champagne.
It is her attention to detail and the look of content- ment on her guests’ faces that have made her one of the most-sought after hostesses in New York City. Planning and time management are her buzzwords, terms she probably picked up while doing her master’s in business administration at Boston University.
By turns an investment banker, a self-employed business woman and an account executive for fashion houses like Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta, Gandhi is now content to sit back and divide her time between her family husband Vikram, daughters Kiran, 14, Kanika, 10, and son Kabir – and the various social causes she champions. One would think that with such clearly-defined goals and a very competent staff to assist her, her life would be laidback. But life is not just a series of parties, though she does host someone for lunch or dinner almost every day.
Take this day, for instance. After packing the children off to school (she personally drops the girls at Chapin, the highly-regarded private girls’ school on the East Side). Gandhi busied herself with the details for the Asia Society benefit she was to host the day after, took a short break for lunch, hurriedly prepared to meet with a team from the Eleanor Roosevelt Center in Val Kill, NY, squeezed in time for this interview while supervising the children, and chatted long enough to ensure that dinner was on the table by 6, when the family gathers for their “leisurely meal.” After that it is homework and bed.
The Gandhis’ five-story townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan – a ‘legacy home’ that once belonged to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt – is a perfect setting for the Asia Society benefit, one of the 30 events organized by the society in New York City as part of its annual summer gala, “Asia on My Mind.” Tickets for the by-invitation-only event were priced at $350 per person.
There was a time, Gandhi says, when she made the most elaborate meals for her guests, but now most of the events are catered by the top Indian restaurants in New York City – Dawat, Ada, Minar, Tamarind, to name a few. While the food goes down well with most of the guests, she concedes she is getting “fed up of Indian” and is itching to try something different.
The busy socialite may be tired of dishing out Indian, but when it comes to other things, there could, possibly, be no greater champion for things Indian – be it art and crafts, designer garments, jewelry, philosophy or spirituality. Though her mother is Irish, Gandhi says she grew up in India and has lived all over the country because of her father’s tenure with the Indian Navy.
She travels to India thrice a year, not just to meet with family and friends and shop, but also to heal her mind and body at the Jindal Institute of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences in Bangalore. “That’s my personal time,” says Gandhi, who also has a yoga teacher come in twice a week to her home. “I love to drink my lemon water, walk all over the beautiful campus, feel at one with Nature around me, meditate and do my yoga.”
A healthy body and a healthy mind, Gandhi believes, are key to happiness and contentment. Like yoga, reading also helps her unwind, though she has to work hard at time management before she can pick up a book. “The thing about living in New York is that there is so much to do and so little time,” laments Gandhi, who loves Broadway and has seen all the latest plays, including the multiple Tony-winner “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Mostly, she prefers to read biographies. Historical settings, personalities, their actions, the reasoning behind those actions, and their impact on the lives of ordinary people fascinate her to no end.
Currently she is reading two books on Roosevelt. “Grandmere: A Personal History of Eleanor Roosevelt” by David B. Roosevelt, and “Kindred Souls: The Devoted Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. David Gurewitsch” by Edna P. Gurewitsch. The interest in the former first lady may have something to do with her current home, but Gandhi claims she had always been impressed by Roosevelt’s passion and spirit.
They bought the house in the year 2000 and, with the help of architect Pedro Castillo, renovated and restored it. Since then, she has hosted numerous fundraisers and some of the most eminent people across the world have enjoyed her hospitality – actors, artists~ designers, bankers, academics, philanthropists, diplomats and politicians.
Art Of Giving
In October last year, Gandhi hosted a fund-raiser for the Eleanor Roosevelt Center. Among the guests were members of the Roosevelt family. The event would have done the former first lady – who was very impressed with India during a 1952 visit – proud.
Gandhi says she has always had a deep-rooted desire to give back to society. In the-U.S., her generosity extends to various organizations like the United World Colleges; the Asia Society; the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in Hyde Park, NY; the Crafts Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works with low-income artisans across the world; and Digital Partners, a nonprofit institute aiming to bridge the digital divide among nations.
“My name includes those of two of the greatest personalities in this world,” she says, referring to her middle and last names (Teresa and Gandhi). “So I had to have imbibed some of their qualities at least,” she laughs.
And as she works to do her bit for the community, she depends on her twice-a-week yoga sessions to keep her in perfect shape. Regular professional manicures and a ton of designer clothes also help embellish her role as a hostess. Gandhi has an enviable collection of both modern and traditional jewelry, Indian and Western. She has no hesitation about wearing traditional Indian jewelry with a Western outfit, and follows a similar mix-and-match style when it comes to her outfits.
“Working for different fashion houses has definitely sharpened my style skills,” says Gandhi, whose favorite Indian designers include Reena Dhaka, Manish Malhotra, Vivek Narang and Rohit Bal. She also loves wearing Chanel, Escada, Versace and Dolce Gabbana. Prada shoes are her weakness as is a set of Armani earrings.
Wear And Tear
A recent favorite outfit is an all-white embroidered kurta and pants she purchased from the Reena Dhaka Collection during a recent showing by the designer at Lord & Taylor’s in Manhattan. Another favorite is an orange top by Bal that she pairs with purple Versace pants. “You wouldn’t think of that as a great combination, but it really works for me,” she says. “I carry it off very well.”
Whether it is a formal event, a casual dinner with friends or a night out with the family, Gandhi says her cardinal rule is to wear something that she is comfortable in. “I have my own sense of style. For instance, I can be wearing a pair of sweat pants and I might put on a Burberry jacket and that can look very chic,” she explains.
Gandhi usually shops when she is traveling – London, Paris, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Jaipur and Delhi are some of her favorites. In New York, however, she prefers to shop over the phone, particularly when it comes to picking gifts. “I usually call up Tiffany’s or Baccarat and tell them what I want to spend, and they pick something, wrap it up and send it over,” she says.
Spoken like a Gandhian?