Work of Art - Michelle Poonawalla talks with You & I

Michelle Poonawalla is one of those ladies who cause you to do a double-take because of how gorgeous they are. She’s bold and daring in how she dresses, and carries off her style with aplomb. Hailing from the illustrious Vazifdar family in Mumbai, Michelle is now married into Pune’s high-profile Poonawalla family, known for living life kingsize.

Tell us something about yourself and what spurred your interest in art.
I work with my husband in the engineering sector of The Poonawalla Group of Companies. I recently also started painting, which I enjoy because of the flexibility it gives me as a mother. My grandfather, the late Jehangir Vazifdar, was a prominent architect and builder in Mumbai. But his real passion was art. He never sold any of his works during his lifetime. If at all, they were only gifted, as he felt in his art he was a free man. The works  were exhibited through his lifetime at the Jehangir Art Gallery and the Taj Art Gallery, along with those of many of today’s famous artists. One of his pieces was also taken to the US by Abbey Grey, an American collector of Asian art. It still sits in her collection of works by many prominent Indian artists, and was exhibited in 2015 amongst those of Hussain, Ram Kumar, and Souza in New York.

How do you carry the illustrious legacy of your grandfather on your shoulders?
I have always been a student of art and even have an Honours graduate in interior design and a Bachelor of Arts to my name. Early this year, my father Phiroze Vazifdar put together a book on my grandfather’s works, which we unveiled at the newly opened Taj Art Gallery in Mumbai. Since I am the only person with whom he shared his prized technique, I felt it was my duty to keep it alive as an inspiration in my artwork. My grandfather’s most-loved secret technique was what he called ‘fake proof’ art. It involved using a wooden ruler and a special way of applying colour to the picture, and then mixing the whole thing up to reveal the picture below.

You are definitely one of the most glamorous mothers around. How do you manage your personal and professional lives?
I have two young children – a 11-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. I always tell my children “if you can dream it, you can do it”. I encouraged my daughter to write her first book when she was nine, and  did the illustrations for her. It is about a little mouse called Harvey. My son is excellent at building and creating things. He builds his own inventions from Lego and loves to draw planes and cars. He started drawing in 3D when he was just three.

Working with my husband, Yohan, gives me the flexibility to be there for my children when they need me. Yohan and I believe our kids’ growing-up years should be treasured, as before you know it they will be grown up and ready to be independent adults.

What’s your take on fashion?
I am very fond of fashion and style. Style is everything one does, I feel. It’s how you dress and how you live. I like to wear what I am comfortable in; I think it’s important for a woman to choose clothes that are appropriate for the occasion in order to always look elegant. Don’t try and ape what suits others or blindly follow trends.

Given the wisdom you have now, what advice would you give your 25-year-old self?
The wisdom I have now, or which anyone has, comes only after going through various stages of life. People need to learn things for themselves, and every year and stage helps one to grow. But of course, one thing I can definitely say is: “Mum and Dad know best!”          --- as told to Suneela