Dr. Vidya Ram Pradeep, Kanakavalli's October Vignette, grew up in a family of doctors who loved art and beauty as much as they loved medicine. In conversation with Aneesha Bangera of The Kanakavalli Journal, Dr. Vidya reminisces about her grandfather’s sharp intellect, her grandmother's gorgeous silk saris and a home filled with stimulating conversation and beautiful objects. Dr. Vidya and her husband are collectors of art, antiques and vintage cars, and they continue to live in her childhood home, with the exquisite pieces that they both inherited from their parents. Dr. Vidya reflects on how her love for art and culture makes her a better doctor, the role of the sari in her everyday life, and what it means to live in a space filled with memories. Browsing through the Kanakavalli repertoire, Dr. Vidya curates a selection of kanjivarams that appeal to her eye for aesthetics.
Memories of Beauty
How did you choose to pursue medicine?
My grandfather, A.A. Iyer, was not only a doctor, but was also a very well-known teacher and the Dean of Stanley Medical College. My father was a dermatologist, and my aunt is a doctor as well. Growing up, my brother and I were surrounded by doctors and by talk of medicine. My father and his doctor friends would often get together to talk about the ‘good old days’ at Stanley. This had a great influence on me, and when it was time for me to choose a field of study, medicine seemed like the most obvious choice. My brother also decided to pursue medicine. I met my husband at medical college, my daughter is now a practicing dermatologist and my son is doing his medical school internship. So, we really are a family of doctors!
My grandfather passed away before I turned 10, and though my memories of him are few, he left a lasting impression on me. He was one of those people who could talk about any subject in the world. He was incredibly knowledgeable, and this is the one thing I remember very vividly about him. I definitely think that he inspired me to pursue a career in medicine.
Above (left to right): Dr. Vidya as a child with her grandparents - her grandfather inspired her to pursue medicine; With her parents and grandparents.
Tell us a little bit about your childhood.
I had a very normal childhood. However, I grew up in an intellectually charged environment, where conversation and knowledge were prized. My parents also inculcated in me an interest in and love for craft, art and culture. Our home was always filled with beautiful things—antique furniture, art and other objects of décor collected over the years. My grandparents lived with us growing up, and they were a very important part of my childhood. I remember that my grandmother always wore the most beautiful silk saris. As I mentioned, my grandfather was extraordinarily well-read, and his ability to speak on almost any topic ensured that there were always stimulating conversations at home.
How did you and your husband come to be collectors of antiques and vintage cars?
My husband grew up in Cochin, and he spent a lot of his childhood visiting antique shops on Jew Street with his parents. So, we both grew up learning to appreciate beauty, while recognising the value of antiques. We are fortunate to have inherited a lot of wonderful pieces, and we have continued to acquire new ones at auctions, or during our travels. We are in touch with several small and interesting antiques dealers, who send us photographs if they come across something they think we would like. While we don’t buy as often as we used to, we still keep an eye out for anything particularly unusual or lovely. My husband’s family used to own many interesting cars and as a child he travelled in several of them. I remember that even as a college student he was fascinated by cars, and owned a VW Beetle which he loved. Unfortunately, he had to give up the car soon after I met him. A year after we got married, though, he acquired another Beetle which we still have! His passion for vintage cars is definitely contagious and I’ve grown interested in them too. Our collection is slowly growing, and we are now part of the vintage car rally group in Chennai.
Above (Clockwise starting top left): Dr. Vidya with her husband and children; On a visit to Borobudur Temple in Indonesia; With her family at the Vintage Car Rally in Chennai with their beloved VW Beetle; Mother-daughter time at Cardiff, UK; Dr. Vidya and her husband on a trip to Manila, Philippines
Your home is filled with beautiful objects and spaces. Could you tell us a little bit about what these mean to you?
My family and I still live in the same house I grew up in, and we have all my parents’ and grandparents’ old furniture and things. Many of the objects evoke the nostalgia of childhood, and of fond relatives. It is quite amazing to be surrounded with all these memories from my childhood, and I enjoy adding to the family collection.
Above (Clockwise starting left): The wall of masks from Dr. Vidya's travels around the world; An antique radiogram from the collection; A beautiful selection of miniature brass objects displayed on their custom shelf; Dr. Vidya's beloved collection of antique lamps; A vintage turntable.
What are some of your favourite pieces in your collection? How did you come by them?
Some of my most treasured objects include the collections of brass items, lamps and clocks that we have. My favourite piece of art is a beautiful work by a Travancore king that we inherited from my husband’s parents. I also have a very old set of traditional wooden dolls, known as marapachi, that belonged to my mother. They are very special to me, and I have mounted them in frames on one wall in the house. Most of these older pieces are ones that have been handed down through generations of our families. More recently, we have started collecting masks from our travels—mostly from Sri Lanka, Kerala and Indonesia—that now occupy one of the walls at home.
Do you think that your love for art informs your work as a doctor in any way? What are your other interests?
I do believe that a person who is interested in the arts tends to have more empathy. I think that a love for culture helps one develop more patience and understanding. My passion for art has definitely helped me develop attributes that are important in my role as a doctor. We love to travel, although now that my children are older, we travel less as a family. My husband and I recently went to Spain and Turkey, both amazing places that we fell in love with. We also enjoyed South Africa—we went there on holiday a few years ago, before the children started their medical studies. We love travelling to places with history. We enjoy walking around and exploring these old cities, looking for interesting objects and shops. We often find things to add to our collections on these travels.
My husband and I also do a lot of work with NGOs associated with juveniles, conducting health camps every few months. I find this very gratifying.
How do you define beauty and tradition?
Beauty can be physical, but it can also be more innate and less transient. I think that the beauty we seek within is often nurtured by tradition. What role does the sari, and the kanjivaram, in particular play in your life? The memories that a kanjivaram evokes are deeply rooted in my childhood and my upbringing in a traditional family. It reminds me of the softness of my mother’s silk saris as I rested my head in her lap. I am reminded of the grandeur of the drapes my mother and grandmother wore on more formal occasions. Both my mother and mother-in-law were very fond of kanjivarams, and I inherited this love for the sari from them. Interestingly, I think my love for the kanjivaram was rekindled more recently when I met Prabha Narasimhan, who helped me transform some of my older kanjivarams into works of art. I wear saris almost every day, including my heavier silks. I always remember Ahalya saying that the more you wear a sari, the softer and more wearable it becomes. And this is absolutely true. Since I work at my clinic and I don’t have to commute too much through the day, I’m very comfortable wearing saris to work every day. Now that my daughter is also a practicing dermatologist, she has started wearing more saris, and I think she has more Kanakavalli kanjivarams than I do! She won’t shop anywhere else.
Tell us the story of the Kanakavalli sari you chose for the Vignettes photo shoot. Kanakavalli has always been one of my favourite stores, and I visit often. On one particular occasion, I was with a friend and my husband. The salesman—who knows my taste quite well—brought a few saris out to show me. This particular one caught my eye, and my friend loved it as well. My husband insisted I buy it, and it’s one of my favourites. Vidya is wearing a gorgeous Kanakavalli kanjivaram woven in a dual shade of mustard yellow with checks enclosing peacock motifs in gold zari. The pallu features seeprekku and geometric patterns, with peacock, paisley and stylised leaf motifs in gold.
- Dr. Vidya Ram Pradeep, in conversation with Aneesha Bangera
View Vidya's guest curation here.