Niveditha Kannan, Kanakavalli’s December Vignette, calls herself an everyday wanderer. For her, each day is an adventure, whether she is at work at a global e-commerce company, experimenting with recipes in the kitchen, or exploring far off lands. In conversation with Aneesha Bangera for The Kanakavalli Journal, Niveditha opens up about the close relationship she shared with her mother, and how her mum continues to inspire her as she begins her own journey towards motherhood. Hoping to pass on the values and traditions that she imbibed from her mother, Niveditha also looks forward to sharing her love for dressing up with her child. Speaking from the perspective of someone who works in online retail and loves to shop online, Niveditha offers insights into how the pandemic has transformed the way the world buys everything from groceries to furniture. The sari has always played an important role in Niveditha’s life, connecting her to her mother, carrying memories, and epitomising her love for objects that are classic and timeless in their beauty. Taking the time out of a busy work and travel schedule, Niveditha curates a selection of Kanakavalli saris that reflect her love for all things handmade. Excerpts of the conversation below...
Memories and motherhood
When I think of my childhood, I remember how much I loved dressing up. Even at the age of six, I preferred wearing my mother’s dupattas and saris to my own dresses. My mother wore a sari every single day—she had a sari for every occasion and time of day. She had a very individual sense of style. I loved the way she draped her saris in a very simple and casual way, sporting a prominent red bindi at the centre of her forehead. She was a connoisseur of beauty and it was an absolute pleasure to watch her dress up. Growing up in Chennai, I have vivid memories of celebrating festivals and of the Margazhi season, when everyone would be out in their best kanjivarams. The sari, therefore, played a really important role in my childhood.
My mother and I were inseparable until she passed away a couple of years ago. Some of my favourite memories of her involve the sari, including shopping for my wedding together at Kanakavalli. We spent many happy hours at the Kingsley store! After my mother passed away, I inherited many of her saris which are now my most prized possessions.
Above (clockwise from top left) : Niveditha with her mother - the two were inseparable; With her mother and brother; Niveditha with her mother-in-law with whom she shares a love for saris; On a family trip to Cochin when Niveditha was just three months old.
As a child, I remember celebrating every festival with great excitement. My mother loved festivals, and she used them as occasions to teach me our traditions and culture. We would plan everything well in advance—including what to wear for each day of Navaratri—so that we could enjoy ourselves without any worries. And we always had so much fun!
My mother and I bonded over our common interests, but we also had our share of arguments and fights—which I think only brought us closer together. There was a point, just before my wedding, when we grew even more attached. Knowing that I’d be leaving home soon, my mother seemed to pour all her love into me. Every time I wear a sari, I pick up my phone to send her a photo before I remember that I can’t. It has been almost two years since we lost her, and the grief hasn’t lessened, but with every passing day it is magical to walk and embrace the life that she always wanted for me, while experiencing the love and joy that memories of her bring.
The values and traditions that I imbibed from my mother have made me a better person. She used stories and festivals as a way to teach me the importance of our traditions. As I step into motherhood myself, I hope to be able to pass on these same things to my child.
Pregnancy has been a rollercoaster so far, with lots of ups and downs, especially in my first trimester. I’ve happily embraced it, though, and want to make the most of this time. After going completely off food, I now crave chocolate and desserts and am really enjoying eating again! I have tried, without much luck, to influence my husband’s sense of style. So, I’m really looking forward to sharing my love for fashion with my child, whether we have a daughter or a son! I can’t wait to dress my baby up, and to teach them the lessons that my mother taught me.
A timeless sense of style
I have always loved antique furniture and vintage objects. Wherever I travel, I look for old artefacts and pieces of furniture that have stories. While I do think there is beauty in modern design and contemporary style, my personal taste will always lean towards to classic and the vintage.
Above: Niveditha draped in a sari for her kindergarten graduation. She has loved saris ever since she was a child.
A woman at the workplace
I started my corporate career with an investment bank that is the largest multinational corporation in the world, and I now work in retail with another large, global MNC. My first job was in Bangalore, so living away from home and being a very new and young employee in the corporate space taught me independent living. Every little experience that I have had at work has moulded me into the person I am today. I have gained immense confidence through my work, and this has helped me come out of my shell and explore the world.
Over the course of my professional journey, I have been inspired by many women leaders around me, to be curious, to be passionate, and to make sure my voice is heard at the workplace. These ideas have not only liberated me, but have taught me to take charge of my surroundings, at the office and also in the outside world. More than anything, I have recognised the value of voicing my opinions, especially in the world we live in today, where it is very easy to get influenced by circumstances.
To be able to express myself fearlessly and be true to myself is the epitome of success for me. I still have a long way to go, and each day is an opportunity to learn and grow.
I have always loved to talk to people, from light hearted chats to more deep and philosophical conversations. Connecting with people is very important to me, no matter where I go. Whether it is with friends, colleagues or even complete strangers, I find it fascinating to engage with people from different regions and backgrounds. This ability to talk to and connect with others has often helped me navigate difficult situations at work.
Of course, there have been ups and downs at work. There are days I feel appreciated and valued, and others when I feel as though I’m not able to express myself the way I want to. As a woman, it can be a struggle to overcome the stereotypes and preconceived notions that others might hold onto. However, even on the hard days, I have managed to voice my thoughts, and I think that as a society we are slowly making progress to a more equal world.
The world of retail transformed
Working in the online retail sector, and being a customer of various e-commerce platforms myself, it has been fascinating to watch the field evolve. I believe that retail has completely transformed in our lifetimes, and even more so in the last couple of years because of how dependent the Covid-19 pandemic has made us on e-commerce. Right from shampoo to furniture, everything is so easily and quickly accessible with just the click of a button. People who wouldn’t have ordered clothes or groceries online even two years ago are now so comfortable with shopping virtually that there is no turning back. With the falling costs of delivery and the ease of returns and exchanges, there really is no reason to go into stores anymore.
The online retail experience has truly made shopping easier and more accessible for working women. While juggling busy schedules, being able to order my groceries and do all the shopping for myself and the house without actually going out has been a real blessing.
Personally, there are only a few things I like to buy in person, and that includes saris and jewellery. When it comes to luxury items, most people still enjoy the real-world experience of shopping—to explore the feel of an object, its weight or texture.
At work, we are obsessed with the customer. We try to ensure that we see things from a customer’s point of view, so we can ensure the best possible shopping experience. Towards this end, I try to observe how other industries and companies function, and I constantly think about customer satisfaction. More than ever, since the pandemic and the increased dependence on ecommerce—not just for convenience but also safety—it is important for us in the world of retail, to enhance the customer experience.
Being a customer myself—my husband complains about the number of packages that are delivered to our home every day!—I am constantly comparing online shopping platforms. I’m curious about different features that could improve the overall experience.
Adventures in the kitchen
When I’m not working—or shopping online! I love to cook up a storm and entertain friends. Cooking is something I have always loved. My parents tell me I inherited a knack for it from my paternal grandmother who was a very skilled cook. Whenever I cook for my father, he tells me my food reminds him of his mother. Ever since I was a young girl, I have felt comfortable in the kitchen. I don’t really measure things out or strictly follow recipes, but I have a natural understanding of spices and flavours.
Above (clockwise from top left): Delicate flowers decorate this cake baked by Niveditha; Brownies and cookies are Niveditha's bestsellers; Her husband's love for South Indian food has inspired Niveditha to cook more often; Niveditha loves to cook up a storm and entertain her friends; A vanilla and salted caramel cake with candied hazelnuts and pralines.
My husband’s love for South Indian food turned my sporadic cooking adventures into something more regular. I enjoy cooking for him, and I love experimenting with new recipes. Working from home during the pandemic meant less time commuting to the office and I could spend more time in the kitchen. My in-laws and my husband all love sweets, and this is what inspired me to hone my baking skills. I started a small baking business two years ago, with close friends and relatives as clients. Word has spread, however, and I now get orders from people across the city. My brownies and cookies are my bestsellers and I really enjoy making them. I also do cakes, and am always trying to come up with the perfect new recipe! The members of my family are my guinea pigs, but I am my own worst critic, always finding room for improvement. I’m taking a break now that I’m almost in the third trimester of my pregnancy, but I know that baking will always be a part of my life.
An everyday explorer
I don’t call myself a traveller, but I do love to explore places—whether in my own neighbourhood or some exotic destination. For me, every day is an exploration—even going to the supermarket is an adventure! I have always enjoyed visiting off beat destinations and less explored places when I travel, and I always try to experience the local food. I love having conversations with the locals, understanding their culture and heritage, and how they preserve it. I also try to collect textiles woven in each place I visit, a memento of my journey and experiences.
Bali is one of my favourite travel destinations. I love how it transforms from being very traditional in the mornings to having a vibrant party culture in the evenings. I spent a very short time in Amsterdam, but I was struck by its slow, easy vibe as I explored it on foot, by cycle, and by boat.
Above (clockwise from top left): Niveditha and her husband in Paris, one of her favourite destinations; Niveditha can't get enough of the pristine lakes of Switzerland; Her first scuba diving adventure; Niveditha and her husband loved exploring Amsterdam by cycle and boat.
Switzerland left me in complete awe of just how beautiful mother nature can be. I just couldn’t get enough of the pristine lakes and snow-capped mountains.
I first visited Paris when I was just growing interested in fashion, and I remember being so excited by the street shopping, the local cafes, the people and the architecture. My days would start with a baguette and end with a long walk under the stars, with lots of shopping and museum-hopping in between. The art and culture really inspired me to appreciate art better.
I love travelling in India - I love the history and heritage of Karaikudi in Chettinad which also happens to be my mother’s hometown. I have also enjoyed exploring the north of India, especially for its variety of cuisines and rich culture.
On beauty, tradition and the sari
I believe that anything handmade, with history attached to it, is both beautiful and traditional. I find beauty in objects that have a story, like the sari, which is a delightful blend of beauty and tradition. It is a piece of my culture and identity.
I love handloom fabrics. I have always deeply appreciated the labour of love with hands that goes into the creation of these crafts. The sari, and the kanjivaram in particular, always makes me feel both beautiful and powerful. In a kanjivaram, I feel ready to take on the world.
I believe that no matter how much or how often trends change, the kanjivaram will never get old or go out of fashion. It will always have a place in our wardrobes and in our hearts.
The story behind the Vignettes kanjivaram
I’m someone who chooses things from heart and soul, that strikes a chord with me. This exclusive kanjivaram I feel has a very contemporary colour to such a historic two headed bird. I first fell in love with this kanjivaram some time ago, and though I couldn’t take my eyes off it, I couldn’t buy it at the time for various reasons. I thought it wasn’t meant to be, but a year later, I went to the Kanakavalli store to treat myself for an achievement at work that I was very proud of. The sari was still available and I still loved it. When I discovered that the iruthalai pakshi, which adorns this exquisite teal kanjivaram, was a symbol of victory, it felt just perfect!
I have always believed that memories and associations are more precious than objects themselves, and I hope to pass this heirloom kanjivaram down through the generations of my family.
Niveditha is wearing a gorgeous kanjivaram in green shot with black and adorned with iruthalai pakshis in gold zari. The black borders feature chevron and geometric patterns in gold, amid hints of mustard yellow and magenta. Horses, peacocks and geometric motifs are woven in ‘adai’ on the pallu in rich gold zari.
- Niveditha Kannan, in conversation with Aneesha Bangera, photography by Raghuram Vedant.
View Nivedithai's accompanying guest curation here.