Race of Champions – Rajshree Pathy and Narain Karthikeyan

It isn’t often that one has the opportunity to feature two South Indian stalwarts, one a celebrated industrialist and businesswoman and the other a motorsports icon, on the same page. To mark the 11th anniversary of RITZ and to commemorate the launch of our newest edition in Coimbatore, we bring together two of the most powerful names from the textile capital of South India to grace the cover of this special issue. Seated on a traditional swing in her charming, palatial home, Rajshree Pathy, Chairperson and Managing Director of the Rajshree Group of Companies and founder of India Design Forum, gets comfortable with her affable nephew, Narain Karthikeyan, the first Indian to have made his mark on the F1 circuit and the country’s torch-bearer for Formula 1 racing, as they give us a glimpse into their lives.

She’s the quintessential baroness, ruling gracefully and evocatively over a vast business empire. Her nephew has chosen to lead life on the fast lane. Rajshree Pathy and Narain Karthikeyan – two of the most prominent faces from South India – epitomise the entrepreneurial spirit of Coimbatore, a small town nestled in the belly of Tamil Nadu, that is sometimes ignored by the glitz and glam comprising many other cities of the country. But history is witness to the fact that this textile rich city has produced some of the most prosperous and successful personalities from the Deccan, two of whom you are reading about right now.

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“Our parents brought us up to be fearless and challenge ourselves,” says Rajshree, speaking for both herself and Narain. “Our elders were daring while also being non-conformists themselves. We learnt to be so from them. Basically we were brought up to do anything that we wanted and our parents offered us their unstinted support. Our elders gave us the value systems and also imbibed in us a deep commitment to our home town. We have been carrying it wherever we go as the emissaries of this wonderful city.”

Taking it back to the beginning of their family and its illustrious connections to the city, Narain, who is in himself a force to reckon with in the world of motorsports, says, “Our agrarian family that is today known by the initials P.S.G made a mark due to their daring business approach around the time of the first World War. This was followed by the building up of a large land bank, establishment of a number of textile mills and also the P.S.G & Sons Charities in aid of the poor and downtrodden. Later many more institutions like the P.S.G. Kanya Gurukulam was started by my great grand father P.S.G.Ganga Naidu for the purpose of educating the girl child and dalit empowerment. It has been our endeavour to give back something to the society.” An endeavour that both aunt and nephew follow to the day.

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Coimbatore was the first to lead the way whenever it came to social entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Here philanthropy is a way of life and very much part of the people’s soul. “People call it CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility today, however sharing of prosperity with the less fortunate has always been part of our value system. My father, G.Varadaraj used to say, ‘A person only knocks at your door for help if he has the confidence that you will help him’,” recalls Rajshree.

While she inherited her philanthropic streak from her father, the love and appreciation for the arts she says she gets from her mother Srivalli. “She used to identify and source art and furniture from different parts of the world. Whenever we travelled, she made sure that we visited museums and thanks to her interest I was exposed to beauty in all its forms quite early in life. Art provokes us to do things in an innovative manner. Contemporary art is really interesting for it helps us to see things in a proper perspective. All this and more motivated me to establish Contemplate, a gallery at Coimbatore which showcases and promotes talent from all around the globe. Coimbatore is a great place to launch talent. I have been working on the India Design Forum in Mumbai and New Delhi. I propose to bring it out in Bengaluru by 2016,” tells Rajshree.

“I meditate almost everyday and walk about five kilometres per day. Though I have a liking for cakes and chocolates I make sure that I take care of myself when I indulge”  – Rajshree Pathy

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Narain, on the other hand, the country’s torchbearer for motorsport, continues to work diligently in the field of his choice on many different levels. “I am always on the move. I keep flitting from one time zone to the other. I have raced around the world. These days I spend a lot of time at about 11 tracks in Japan. Japan has 22 race tracks and I participate between March and November. Besides all this I run the Research & Development Centre for JLR (Jaguar Land Rover) which belongs to Tata Motors. Both racing and research keep me busy and focused at all times,” he tells.

Rajshree talks about how she has been an entrepreneur all her life. “Business is unpredictable and especially the area that I work is not only complex but also volatile, while also being politically sensitive. One’s creativity can never be exploited fully. However one should always keep trying for something innovative and exciting. One has to always remember that the balance sheet is not gender sensitive,” she quips.

On the other hand, Narain, who has dedicated his life to racing explains: “ Automobiles have been my identity. Anything that I do will be associated with automobiles. I will leverage this synergy between my brand and cars and go ahead. The NK Racing Academy was something that I started in 2006 and five international drivers today are from this academy. Till now, due to my hectic racing schedule, I was unable to devote much time to the academy, but I’ll plan to do so now in order to nurture upcoming talent.”

“Racing calls for a lot of fitness and discipline. For that matter every sports person has to take care of his physique. The only way is by working out regularly, jogging and by also leading a disciplined life” – Narain Karthikeyan

Despite their combined hectic lifestyles, both have strong family values and believe in making time for their near and dear ones. “An active person finds time for everyone and everything. I cook, spend time with my family and friends. I am a mother to my kids, Aishwarya and Aditya. It’s such a pleasure to play with my grandchildren,” says Rajshree, adding, “Yes, I like being an entrepreneur and homemaker at the same time.”

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​“A​fter college I wanted to race like my cousins but my mother would not have any of it. Then came Aloha Travels – a travel agency which helped me learn the ropes and also offered me the cheapest way to fly first class around the world. This was followed with a stint at the family run Coimbatore Auto Industries and Rajshree Spinning Mills when I was just 24 years old. By the time that I was about 30 years of age I was fully involved with my father’s major venture Rajshree Sugars & Chemicals Limited​​  – Rajshree Pathy

Narain quickly adds that his wife, who he considers his biggest support system, often accompanies him on his travels, but he ensures that he makes as much time as possible to spend with his extended family when he’s back home in Coimbatore.

The duo’s mutual love and respect for each other is evident in the easy rapport they share and the way in which they address each other.

“Coimbatore has been a torch bearer in the field of motor sports. Youngsters from all our families were into cars in a big way. Well​, ​it  was different from a country which respects only cricket. Ayrton Senna was my role model He was from Brazil. Both our countries have had similarities. If someone could do it from Brazil then why not from India?”  – Narain Karthikeyan

Both hugely successful in their own right, there is not a hint of animosity between their towering personalities. Says Narain of his super successful aunt, “ She is a person who continues to inspire me. She was always good at doing things in a positive way. She gave me the courage to do what I wanted and has been a very big support for me. She took big responsibilities early in life and I have learnt a lot from her.”

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Despite her nephew’s celebrity status, Rajshree has only good things to say about him. “Narain is a humble person. He was always focused and hard working. Racing has been his passion and I know of the trials and tribulations that he went through by the time he became the fastest Indian. He could always have joined any South East Asian Team and fuelled his career, however he did what he stated always – “I am Indian and I will race as one”. I had tears in my eyes when I saw Narain with the Indian tricolour while racing abroad,” she elborates, her admiring look speaking volumes and drawing a poignant smile from the docile speedster.