Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rekha Mallya

She hates parties, loves children, spurns spas but enjoys relaxing spells in lush Italian retreats. On her annual visit to Bangalore from her home in California, Rekha Mallya models some of her favourite ensembles, even as Sumitra Senapaty gets acquainted with tycoon, Vijay Mallya's reclusive spouse.

Her multimillionaire husband may be quite a flamboyant personality, but Rekha Mallya prefers a more low-key existence. "Sometimes people don't even know who I am and I just love that!" says the solitude-loving wife of Vijay Mallya and mother of four. "Contrary to what people think, I am just not the party type. I can never get used to the crowds and above all, I just have to have time for my family. In fact, I hate parties; it's a whole lot of niceties and unnecessary small talk. Instead, I prefer intellectual stimulation, as is present, say, in Davos, where it's mentally stimulating to hear what world-renowned personalities have to say."

We are seated in her bungalow on 3 Vittal Mallya Road in Bangalore, where she has agreed to give a rare interview. Rekha Mallya travels frequently between her homes in the United States and India, sometimes taking time off in Dubai or Portofino, a quaint Italian village with chic boutiques and the typical Italian mix of art, fashion, history and low-key Hollywood presence.

Children, Mallya says, are her passion. Not just her own four - ranging between the ages of 11 and 24 - but also those less fortunate. "I may not be able to give my children full time and attention, but they know in their hearts that they can always turn to me and I will be there for them."

She is especially touched by the plight of abused children. A television programme about the traumatised victims of Uganda made a deep impression. "Over the last three years, tens of thousands of minors have been kidnapped in the dead of night. Thousands of boys and girls forced from their beds at gunpoint, tortured and terrorised. How is this possible? How can this be true? It seems too horrific to be real - but it is. They are ordinary kids - going to school, listening to hip-hop, dreaming of their futures - but nightly they face a terrifying and all-too-real possibility: being abducted by a rebel leader. The world is, for the most part, standing by and letting it happen," says an anguished Mallya.

She has done something about it, too, by supporting The Name Campaign, an organisation that helps the kidnapped children. "Mine is a small step, but I am truly committed to these poor kids though I may not have time for active social work as such."

Though her family hails from Coorg, famed for its coffee plantations and the scent of pepper, her earliest memories of her childhood are about growing up in Bangalore and sneaking out of Sophia High School to head for the neighbouring Bangalore Golf Club.

"Those days it was quite something being a member of a club and treating your classmates to lemonade!"

What she now looks forward to when she visits India, twice a year, is meeting up with her close family and friends as well as her religious sojourns. Spas and wellness retreats are not among her favourite things. Unwinding for Mallya primarily means relaxing at home in California with her children and her two Bichon Frise dogs, Channel and Kristal, and catching up on her reading.