Ritu Kumar at 22 (inset),and now in her 70s (above)
Ritu Kumar at 22 (inset),and now in her 70s (above)

“I got a scholarship to study in New York,” says Ritu Kumar

The fashion designer takes a walk down memory lane as she talks about spending time in the library in college, starting her career in fashion and wearing silk saris in the US
PUBLISHED ON JUN 20, 2021 08:02 AM IST

Where were you career-wise?

I was given a scholarship to go to Briarcliff College, New York, where I was doing a course in history of art and dramatics.

What was your money situation like?

Almost zero as I got a scholarship from the host college and they paid for everything. I took a job in the library to put back books people borrowed during the day. Not many people came to the library, so I did all my homework and assignments there. I was mostly in the library when not in class.

Ritu with her parents, Puran and Lila Mehta, brothers Rajiv (on her left) and Raman at Studio Mall Road in Shimla
Ritu with her parents, Puran and Lila Mehta, brothers Rajiv (on her left) and Raman at Studio Mall Road in Shimla

Any romance in life?

I had met my husband before I went to New York. After finishing my course, I came back and we got married.

Was your family supportive?

Very. My parents have always been very motivated towards education. They were thrilled when I got the scholarship, as in those days you were allowed to only spend 50 dollars a month by the government of India. So, very few, if any, women went to college outside the country.

Ritu in her bridal attire wearing bandhani on silk
Ritu in her bridal attire wearing bandhani on silk

Tell us about your sense of fashion?

I went into an American college where people were affluent and would change their wardrobe every second week. I had got one suitcase with kurtas, pyjamas and chunnis, and I had bought a sweater, which I used throughout college. I got three saris with me. They thought I was from a maharaja’s house as I was dressed in six metres of silk!

Ritu on the day of her wedding with her husband, Shashi Kumar, and her parents wearing the sari she had designed herself
Ritu on the day of her wedding with her husband, Shashi Kumar, and her parents wearing the sari she had designed herself

What did you do for fitness?

We had a course and had to swim – there was an underground swimming pool in college. We swam couple of days in a week.

What’s your most prized possession?

I got a degree called summa cum laude in History of Western Art, the highest marks for the discipline. It set my role for the next years of my life.

With her first cousin and famed filmmaker Deepa Mehta in Amritsar
With her first cousin and famed filmmaker Deepa Mehta in Amritsar

What was your biggest dream?

Funnily enough, to come back and understand my country as I felt completely ignoramus. I joined the Ashutosh Museum in Calcutta for a museology course, and that’s when I really learnt about India.

One thing you’d want to rewind and change about yourself would be?

I wish I had 48 hours in the day!

Ritu with her dog Simmi
Ritu with her dog Simmi

The biggest life lesson you learnt then?

People have many opinions on what the perfect life is, but if you have a conviction, stay with it. I stayed with my conviction of trying to work with the craftspeople of this country and I stayed with what I felt was needed, and it has enriched my life greatly.

From HT Brunch, June 20, 2021

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