I met her at a women’s conference and assumed that Nandita was just another beautiful Bengal tigress who excels at the work that she does. But that’s not who she is – well, not entirely. Her world is a melting pot of various cultures: her paternal side is Kashmiri Pandit, her maternal side is Punjabi and her husband is Bengali. Her life is an amalgamation of experiences which have been passed down through generations. As an individual having studied Mass Communication and having worked in theatre from a young age has given her a multi faceted personality. This convergence of various cultures and experiences can be seen in the jewelry which she designs.
In conversation with Nandita Atal Bose about Burnt Sienna and her very interesting childhood. Burnt Sienna is a company that supplies jewelry to 28 stores in India and to seven in the United Kingdom.
How did you start Burnt Sienna? The first company that I started was called Sia, which was more a labour of love than anything commercial. I worked with artisans and held exhibitions. But Burnt Sieena was a business idea with a very strong creative flavour. In it’s case the commercial angle was extremely important. Burnt Sienna started as a jewelry company, wedding jewelry was the idea: though we initially started with metal and then gradually went into precious stones.
At one point were you into leather jewellry, as well? We started with metal because at that time we had funds only for metal and leather. Since there was a constraint and I had been burnt earlier we decided to become the best in metal and then move up the ladder. After metal, we moved onto silver. That line was called Silver Sienna. The funds that we got from Silver Sienna were used to start Aliya Diva which was silver with gold plating. Then we got into fine jewelry. Everything basically fed into each other. I would give myself eight month-long deadlines to make each line work out.
You seem to be very ‘with it’. You’re one of the few who started marketing on Facebook when it was still in it’s nascent stage in India. How did your Facebook journey begin and what are the future plans for the company? We started in 2005 and by 2008 recession had hit world over and there was basic gloom and doom. Almost overnight we lost six of our local stores. Almost at the same time Facebook was becoming popular. So we decided to use it. At the moment we have a very strong online presence of over 45,000 people. Burnt Sienna is a company that makes jewelry for corporate women. We are starting Siena baby which is jewelry for children.
Now on a personal front, you seem to have had the most interesting childhood. Can you tell me about growing up in a family which was a melting pot of cultures and experiences? . My childhood was very interesting. I was born in Calcutta. I am half Kashmiri and half Panjabi. My mother is Panjabi and my father is Kashmiri.I grew up in Calcutta and when I was three I moved to Guwahati. Moved back to Calcutta finished my college and then came to Delhi to do my Masters and then I started two companies. When we were growing up in Calcutta and then subsequently in Assam we would come to Delhi every single year to meet both maternal and paternal grandparents. There was a very strong Kashmiri Pandit influence which enveloped all of us at a very festive time. So you did see a lot of layering of social festivals in a wedding scenario and it was fascinating for a child to grow up in that environment. Both my parents are extremely liberal. Possibly my father is a little orthodox. My mother spent a lot of time in England when she was growing up. I grew up in a family where smoking and drinking wasn’t taboo for women. I personally don’t drink and smoke but that’s just a kink. It was a wonderful place to breathe and grow as children.
So obviously there was no opposition when you wanted to marry a Bengali man. Yes, there wasn’t any. My father just asked me if I was sure and that’s it. I wasn’t very young when I got married. I was already 28. My parents gave both me and my younger sister a lot of space to choose our professions and our husbands. I married a Bengali and my sister is married to a Muslim man. So in a way my family is not really like a typical Kashmiri Pandit family. Many of my cousins have married outside the community.
© Saadiya Kochar 2014