If the twenties is about finding your own space in the world, then the talented Manasi Kirloskar is quite ahead of the game.
Unnerved. Animated. Confident. With volumes to add to discourse, Manasi Kirloskar has a quiet resolve as she goes about finding possibilities in conversations, some with the powerful, others with peers, and many more, with a vision of empowerment. The twenty-eight year old heiress to the Kirloskar legacy spoke last year at the House of Lords at a Global Convention of Institute of Directors, among policy makers, leaders. She was on the job, researching, learning, increasing her world view. And she wowed the audience. A credible feat, in itself. But to know her, we must go back to childhood where her curiosity was kindled by her parents Vikram and Geetanjali Kirloskar. An only child, observant, ever-absorbing, with unbridled curiosity, Manasi sat wide-eyed with her parent’s friends, family, business associates, at innumerable formal dinners. “As an only child, I was with my parents and their friends, and used to being with older people who discussed world matters that I was unaware of, and learnt from. My parents engaged me in those talks and that is what helped, I think,” says Manasi Kirloskar, executive director, Kirloskar Systems and Kirloskar Technologies.
Her talk at the House of Lords, she explains, “We (India) have a long deep rooted history with England, I was surprised to find that trade between the nations is not as strong. With the travails of Brexit, it was a huge topic of discussion at that time, so I decided to speak about how the two nations can make a positive impact — especially in education and healthcare,” adds the heir to the Kirloskar empire.
A prolific painter who studied painting at the Rhode Island Institute of Design, she started her oeuvre happily painting walls, bedsheets, canvases at home, and even had a solo exhibition at 13. Art is what she holds most dear and her NGO Caring with Colour stems from her stroke play. “I have always been painting. I started teaching arts and craft at government primary schools, with two different NGOs at 14 — Christel House and Akshara, and an initiative supported by Concern India. I was very moved by the experience as I was teaching abandoned and abused girls my age. I started comparing my life to theirs, and their stories. At 16, I kept mulling over what I could do to benefit them. That was when I had an exhibition of works created by those children at Samukha and at Kynkyny, and the galleries were wonderful to give me the place. My dream was to start a non-profit, and Caring with Colour, today works with government schools, changing the way education is delivered. We believe the way children are taught currently is irrelevant and does not prepare them for the future. We are looking at a constructive approach to teaching, and using methods where a child is taught to explore concepts on his or her own. The teacher does not answer questions but enables the child to discover the answers. We are creating a lesson plan for every single chapter for Maths, Science and English from classes one to seven,” the tall and subtly fashionable Manasi elaborates. A pilot study at six schools in Bidadi is currently ongoing, and they hope to add more schools under its aegis. An app where lesson plans, teaching aids, etc will be a click away, is also being launched soon.
As heiress to a business empire, she is undoubtedly privileged and has the world at her disposal. She agrees wholeheartedly, “I can’t deny the fact that I am privileged. I am very appreciative of my parents, who supported me. I wanted to paint and a lot of people said you shouldn’t be sending her to an arts school, let her do economics but they encouraged me to follow my dreams. I think there is a great deal of responsibility that comes with privilege. It’s up to the individual to decide how they choose to live their life and how they choose to use those privileges? Even if I was born with a silver spoon, if I am not competent, I could lose it all overnight.”
How does a painter fit into the mechanics of industry? She is quick to bust conventions, “Design is a way of thinking, a mindset. Many ask me what a painter is doing in a heavy industry? That is a very conventional way of thinking. Painting is not just about oil on canvas, it’s about the way I think. With a fine arts degree, one can apply that thinking process to anything. Many painters have graduated from RISD, and are now successful venture capitalists. The founder of Air BnB (Brian Chesky) went to RISD, and look what is he doing now? It’s just the way you apply your mind,” she adds.
Close to her father’s family, get-togethers are 150 members strong, or more. Diwali and Rakhi are celebratory and Manasi is extremely close to her cousins, which prompts her friends to think it a bit odd, but she laughs it off. Close to her mother’s family, Manasi feels, “My mom strongly believes in relationships. She has been very very strict about manners, and keeping and maintaining relationships. I believe that can only be done if you are genuinely and truly involved, which I am. I love my extended family.”
Working with her dad, change has been imminent. While father and daughter have disagreements at work, or about the way she chooses to live life, she is grateful about his open mindedness. Meeting new people and imparting wisdom, as she did at BITS Pilani (about start-ups), or at She Leads and other forums, she is an explorer of new thought and a complete outdoorsy person. This year’s plan has Israel and Jordan on the map, with her equally adventurous parents. Enthused about people and their inspiring thought processes, she admits that her family constantly rib her about one thing, “They call me a drama queen. Guess, when I am in a comfortable environment, I am very animated!” And raring to go as well.