Dr Swati Piramal is a woman of many parts. Scientist, industrialist, philanthropist, art enthusiast, design aficionado—she is all of these and more. MARWAR catches up with the tireless vice-chairperson of Piramal Enterprises Ltd, whose latest passion, incredulously, is enriching the Thane landscape with the splendour of a million blooms.
There are many things that Dr Swati Piramal has turned her hands to, but amazingly she has played every major role with a flourish, and the long list of awards and honours that have been heaped upon her, including the Padma Shri, vouch for it. From leading a team of research scientists as the vice-chairperson of Piramal Enterprises Ltd to serving on the Council of Trade of the Prime Minister to pursuing philanthropic causes, there is already enough on her plate to keep her gasping for breath and time. News of her foray into yet another project—an extravagant flower show in the heart of Thane—therefore, came as
A floral tribute to Thane
Thane, a sprawling suburb of Mumbai and the latest buzz in realty circles, takes pride in its verdure, where steel and concrete commingle with pockets of natural greenery, not to forget the adjoining Yeoor Hills. It is in one of these pockets that Piramal Enterprises’ realty wing has chosen to develop a 32-acre residential address, the Piramal Vaikunth, for distinctive homemakers who crave as much for ultramodern housing as for living in perfect communion with nature.
As for Dr Piramal, who is a nature lover as well as a design enthusiast, what better place to realise her long-cherished dreams of establishing a floral paradise while designing homes that reflect natural environs. The upshot: Vaikunth Flower Show, a Chelsea-like flower show at Piramal Vaikunth that turned out to be a veritable feast to the eyes with its million blooms and which is here to stay to endow salubriousness, bust stress and enhance creativity for its residents to be. “In an increasingly digital world, it is important to connect with nature,” explains Dr Piramal. “We have around two million flowers blooming in 18 theme gardens at Piramal Vaikunth. We have adopted Harvard professor E O Wilson’s concept of ‘biophilia’, where there an innate connection with nature. We hope to hold the show every year.”
For the love of flowers
Incidentally, flowers are not a newfound love for Dr Piramal, who has been organising a grand flower show in Mahabaleshwar for the past three years, as part of the annual Mabe Hill Fest (which she informs us is about culture, community and conservation). “We are basically trying to bring the international concept of a flower show to India,” says Dr Piramal, who has been endeavouring to have a million flowers bloom at the same time during Christmas at these shows. Encouraged with the show’s success, she thought of replicating it closer to Mumbai, which explains the Vaikunth Flower Show in Thane. An added attraction at Vaikunth, however, is the toy train, The Little Sultan, which is a replica of the first train to run in India, from Bori Bunder to Thane, in 1853.
But love for nature and conservation apart, the Vaikunth gardens serve yet another purpose for Dr Piramal, who, one must not forget, is a botanist, a researcher and a doctor, with an MBBS degree from the University of Mumbai and a master’s degree from Harvard School of Public Health [now the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health].
“I have a great interest in phytopharmaceutical [pharmaceutical agents of plant origin] medicines and recently developed one for diabetes,” says the distinguished researcher, whose curiosity for botany goes back to school days. Later, she would spend hours browsing books at the century-old Blatter Herbarium at St Xavier’s College, which whetted her appetite for florae. After academics, her interest lay in finding new drugs from natural products, towards which she got together a huge library of microbes, fungi and medicinal plants. It’s not surprising therefore when she says, “At Vaikunth, we have perhaps the largest private botanical garden in India with 40 species of rare trees.”
Museum for art’s sake
Fortuitously, an added impetus for Dr Piramal has been her husband Ajay Piramal’s support, who not only shares her love for nature and conservation, but also has been jointly promoting the duo’s other interests. A case in point is the recent launch of the Piramal Museum of Art, under the aegis of the Piramal Art Foundation, which was founded in 2014 by the Piramal family. Located at Lower Parel, a throbbing business district in the heart of Mumbai, the 7,000 sq ft art museum displays a wealth of 40-50 artworks by reputable artists such as Akbar Padamsee, Hemendranath Mazumdar, Gaganendranath Tagore, Jehangir Sabavala and Bikash Bhattacharjee, among others. The works are from the Piramals’ private collection which has grown to be an important repository of modern Indian art, so much so that it was felt that it should rather be a part of everyone’s life through a public display, as that would not only ensure their preservation and documentation but also aid art related research and education. “I believe art should be a part of everyone’s lives, irrespective of what economic strata they come from. We hope to achieve this by supporting artists and building collections that the public, especially children, can enjoy,” says Dr Piramal.” The collection recounts a fabulous story of the historical backdrop of Indian art and workmanship from the mid-eighteenth century to present times.
The Piramal Art Foundation’s efforts to promote art have spilled on to Vaikunth as well, where an Art Residency Programme was launched alongside the flower show. The first of its kind, it focuses on the need to create studio spaces for visual artists to come and practice their art. It will also allow budding artists gain access to top-notch art professionals from the city and arrange visits to various museums, art spaces and art communities.
For the tireless Dr Piramal, who has never ceased to amaze with her varied interests, renaissance scientist and artist, Leonardo da Vinci, is a burning inspiration. “It is important to have wide curiosity and interests and learn something new every year,” she explains. Does that mean there is something on the anvil yet again? It just could be with her growing interest in gardening and how bacteria influence immunity and promote good health. The subject has evinced worldwide interest of late among researchers, and Dr Piramal is not one to be left behind when it comes to learning more about new researches.