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Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces

Even hard-nosed investors need a spiritual touch and an emotional connect at their workplace

Deepti Chaudhary
Published: Aug 23, 2014 06:18:28 AM IST
Updated: Aug 7, 2014 03:23:49 PM IST
Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
Image: Joshua Navalkar
Bala Deshpande in front of the Seven Chakras painting

On deal street, you can never be sure. here, head rules over heart and volatility rules over everything. There are billions at stake and one less-than-clinical step can push you over the brink. How do investors survive this gruelling all-or-nothing regime? What are their touchstones of sanity as they juggle intimidating figures? ForbesLife India visited the offices of the country’s top private equity players to look for answers, and came back surprised. In the midst of a mad rush of numbers, the constant buzz of telephones, and heaps of papers around their workplace lies an inner calm rooted in their private space. While for some, idols and images of Lord Ganesh offer spiritual balm, for others, souvenirs from their personal lives remind them of the things that really matter. Vinita Chaitanya, chief executive, PRISM, an interior design firm, says most high-profile investors feel the need to be surrounded at their office by objects they can call their own—photographs of loved ones, gifts from family and friends,  or religious motifs. “The lives of these people are fast-paced and deal with a lot of capital. They cannot show their emotions or weaknesses. At some level, simple, small things touch them… it’s their emotional need.”

Bala Deshpande, 48
Day Job:
Senior managing director, New Enterprise Associates India Pvt Ltd
Passion: Seeking Nirvana

One of the most prominent features of Bala Deshpande’s office in the posh Windsor building in Mumbai’s Kalina area tells you a lot about the 48-year-old even before you meet her. It’s a striking blue-and-pink painting of the Seven Chakras, reflecting the spiritual bent of Deshpande’s mind.  (Blue is the colour of divinity and pink of the heart.) At its apex is a 1,000-petalled lotus, the Sahasrara Chakra, which symbolises detachment from illusion. It is a crucial step towards attaining higher consciousness.  

Says Deshpande, “The illumination of the chakras, the energy centres in our body, is a goal I have had for a long time. I truly believe this is what the lifelong journey for human beings is all about… how and when you light up the chakras.”

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
The Kamdhenu dominates one corner of her office

A large, marble-dust Kamdhenu dominates a corner of Deshpande’s office. Drawing lessons from Hindu mythology, she says, “Its presence in the room emanates positive vibes. I also like what it stands for, that one’s wishes will be granted.”
Deshpande also has a small statue of the Laughing Buddha, placed just a few inches away from the Kamdhenu. Perhaps, a reflection of her own pleasant disposition.

Deshpande doesn’t care for floral decorations in her office (she’d much rather have them bloom on the tree), but there is a large pot of bamboo shoots that “are good for any living area as they signify purity and positivity”. 

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
The mugs with images of her and husband Chaitanya

There’s a nook in her workplace where personal meets the professional. Two mugs, not meant for use, hold a special place in Deshpande’s heart. One has her own image imprinted on it, while the other has a picture of her husband Chaitanya. The two have been married for 25 years. “Office is where you spend a lot of time. It’s important to keep things that remind you of people and things that are important to you. My husband has been so supportive of my career that he is an integral part of my worklife too.”

Deshpande’s credentials in the industry are well-known. Along with a combination of all these positive personality traits, she has crafted a career that has always been on an upward trajectory. Proof: Since she joined NEA as a senior MD in 2008, its assets under management have grown from $100 million to over $350 million.

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
Image: Joshua Navalkar
Vishal Tulsyan with his wood-crafted miniature of a Harley Davidson

Vishal Tulsyan, 39
Day Job:
Managing director and chief executive officer, Motilal Oswal Private Equity Advisors
Passion: Sports & Harley Davidson

He manages investments worth no less than Rs 2,500 crore. It stands to reason that his day would be a procession of meetings. But Vishal Tulsyan, 39, is rather private about his office space. Instead of his own cabin, he prefers to use the conference rooms. Before you start imagining the ‘dark secrets’ hidden within, here’s what we discovered on entering his lair.

For one, Tulsyan is a biker. You can’t miss the Harley Davidson miniature (crafted out of wood) carefully positioned in one of the corners. “I love Harley Davidson. I have this model here because I associate it with the child in me who wants to buy it,” says Tulsyan, who currently owns an Enfield. Work may not permit him to burn rubber as often as he would like to but an annual Goa monsoon break with his wife is now a ritual. Needless to say, the bike is their preferred mode of travel. “I intend to do a Ladakh trip soon,” he says.

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
Souvenirs from Wimbledon and the French Open;  right: A small, white  statue of Mahatma Gandhi, one of Tulsyan’s role models

His other passion reveals itself in a tennis ball signed by 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. But Tulsyan isn’t just a fan boy: He plays the sport three to four times a week, sometimes with his seven-year-old son too. He has been to the French Open and Wimbledon and intends to attend at least one Grand Slam a year. “Tennis is a different joy altogether,” he says. Roger Federer is his pick from the current crop, while Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf are his all-time favourites.

But this man is not just about brawns; a philosophical strain lurks within him. Ask him about the small, white statue of Mahatma Gandhi in his cabin and he will tell you about the enormous influence the leader has had on his life; Tulsyan has even read his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, thrice. “[But] I don’t think I understand him even 15 percent,” says Tulsyan, adding that he admires Gandhi for his simplicity and his pursuit of non-violence. “... I think even anger is a form of violence. I do get angry and it is a trait I want to get rid of.” Though there are no Bollywood posters adorning the walls, Tulsyan happily admits to another passion: Amitabh Bachchan. “I would do anything for him. I want to produce a movie and cast Big B in it.”

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
Image: Mexy Xavier
Narain’s spartan work space

Vish Narain, 39
Day Job:
Country head, TPG Growth, TPG Capital India
Passion: Playing the sitar

Three Ganeshas, each holding a sitar, positioned on a beautiful plank, are not just decorative pieces in Vish Narain’s office. A gift from his guru Ustad Shujaat Khan, they are also a constant reminder of his daily riyaaz (practice). “Sitar is not something you play once a month,” says Narain. “If you don’t play it one day, you go back four days.”

Narain, the India head of one of the largest PE funds in the country, needs the nudge. Imagine the intensity of his work life. There is hardly a deal in the market that has not been ‘considered’ by TPG, a deep-pocketed and highly selective global investor. But Narain hasn’t let the demands of his work stymie his lifestyle. An understated man, his work space, too, is an extension of his personality—minimalistic. Think functional, with a wide table and a generous walking space. And, on the right side of his chair, is his guru’s musical prompt.

A trained sitar player, Narain has learnt the art from Ustad Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar for over 25 years. “Playing the sitar is my time with myself. It’s a meditative period for me. It allows me to express… it’s a creative outlet that one doesn’t get in the business environment,” says Narain who started working with the instrument when he was 12. While he doesn’t get to practise as much as he would like to, he has resolved to achieve regularity.

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
Image: Mexy Xavier
The three Ganeshas gifted by his sitar guru Ustad Shujaat Khan

Along with being a practitioner, Narain is also an aficionado. He attends sitar recitals often, saying that “hearing it over and over again makes you learn how experts play a particular note”.

This tribute to his musicality is also one of the few indulgences in his otherwise spartan work space. The other—or a pair of them—is a photo-frame with pictures of his two daughters, Anandmayee, 4, and Srimayee, 2. His face breaks into a smile when you point to them. “My sitar rendition has got the approval of my daughters,” Narain jokes. “They are getting inclined towards the sitar and I would be very happy to teach them.”

Narain is an unexpected combination of culture enthusiast and hard-nosed investor. Even when he is watching TV at home, he prefers to watch cultural channel DD Bharati. It features classical dance and music performances as well as programmes on theatre, literature, art and architecture. “One needs to experience art… we can’t just read about it in books.”

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
Rubi Arya at her office. Next to her is a wooden elephant with its trunk pointing upwards—considered propitious for prosperity

Rubi Arya, 42
Day Job:
Director and vice-chairman, Milestone Capital Advisors Ltd
Passion: Feng Shui

Rubi Arya’s office is a beautiful, corner room in the sprawling Milestone headquarters in Mumbai’s Bandra. It overlooks a green cover of tree tops, daylight streaming in, touching almost every square inch of the space. Seated within is Arya, who has infused her work environment with as much positive energy as she can garner. Faith, for her, is a precious thing. Having lost her husband Ved Prakash Arya to a freak accident in 2011, she is unabashed about her reliance on a higher power. “One has to have some trust, some faith somewhere that helps to cope with life,” says Arya.

This is manifest in her body language and in her surroundings. While her office has several pointers of her belief, the showstopper is a wooden elephant with its trunk pointing upwards—considered propitious for prosperity. It was bought nearly a decade ago by her husband. A cupboard houses a crystal lotus and tortoise, four ‘Laughing Buddha’ statues, a plank with sand from seven deserts and a “Pride of India” collection of twenty-five 22-carat gold-plated stamps. The lotus represents peace and purity. The tortoise signifies support, strength and longevity.

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
She has three pictures of her family, including that of deceased husband Ved Prakash Arya, on her desk

“As a promoter of a company, I need to be stress-free or I cannot inspire confidence among my team members. I want to surround myself with positivity, and feng shui and vaastu are all about balance in life.” Arya’s chair faces north to increase prosperity. The cabin has a painting of a waterfall to represent the element of water. A multi-hued painting of Buddha in her office gives her “inspiration at work”. An inveterate traveller, Arya has visited nearly 40 countries and brought back curios and artifacts.

Three pictures of her family are placed on her desk—that of her daughter, 15, son, 11, and her late husband. Arya says she is not religious and believes one can build a temple around themselves at any point of time. Her office, clearly, is hers.

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
Image: Joshua Navalkar
A pen stand hand-painted by Sinha’s daughters

MK Sinha, 47
Day Job:
Managing partner and chief executive, IDFC Alternatives
Passion: Being a father

A self confessed “deals junkie”, Manavendra Kumar (or MK) Sinha has been a dealmaker since 1995. He joined IDFC Ltd in 2005 as an executive director responsible for project finance and business development.

Today, he is the managing partner and chief executive of IDFC Alternatives, IDFC’s alternative asset management vertical which manages over $3 billion on behalf of leading institutional investors from across the world.

And his office, at first glance, is typical of a man who lives and breathes transactions. His table has stacks of neatly folded paper, and his appointment diary is chock-a-block.

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
Over 50 plaques depicting his transactions

But look around and, on the wall opposite his seat, as if across an invisible divide, are two paintings made by his 13-year-old twin daughters, Natasha and Tanisha. They are positioned in a way to ensure that Sinha can see them every time he glances up.

A pen stand, an odd-items box and a small, square dish, occupy pride of place on his desk: These are all hand-painted by his three daughters. (His eldest daughter Manisha is 16.) The pen stand, in fact, has ‘IDFC + MK + Natasha’ inscribed on it.

Soothing effect: Investors and their spiritual balm at workplaces
On either side are paintings made by his 13-year-old twins

“I don’t like to keep pictures in the workplace. It’s my family; I don’t want to advertise their faces. The curios remind me of my daughters. It keeps the family with me even when I am away,” he says. “It gives a sense of being connected to them.”

On another wall in his cabin, Sinha has over 50 plaques depicting each transaction that he has closed in his career.

And much like the decor in his office, Sinha also keeps his professional and personal lives separate. “I also have two sets of relationships—professional and personal friends—and they don’t cross over.”

(This story appears in the July-Aug 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Jonathan

    Adhyatmik balance I certainly need to keep grounded in our consumer society.

    on Aug 23, 2014