Team Optimist: How do you face challenges in life and cope with them?
Agnimitra Paul: I’ve always been broad-minded and extremely optimistic since childhood. I like seeing a glass half full than half empty and, probably, that’s why I always dreamed of persuading a career as a doctor. Moreover, we never had too many career options then — it was either a doctor, or an engineer, a CA, or an advocate. Just that!
My decision was influenced by my father as he, too, is a doctor. He’s still a practicing pediatrician at age 74! So, after finishing school from Loreto Convent and college from Asansol Girls’ College, I appeared for the Joint Entrance Exam. But I was really disheartened when I didn’t get through. Although my name was on the waiting list as a dentist, I didn’t want to be one. I could’ve easily gone to a private college and fulfilled my dream, but I didn’t want to burn a hole in my dad’s pocket. So, I got myself enrolled for Botany (Honours) in BB College, Asansol, instead.
It was a difficult time for me. Yet, I was determined and, with my hard work, I’ve come a long way. I feel God has always been by my side and I’ve achieved a lot by His grace. And, being an optimist, I’ve always believed in seeing the brighter side of every picture.
Team Optimist: You’re a wife, a mother, a creative person and an entrepreneur. Which role do you enjoy the most?
Agnimitra Paul: I love being a mother and I enjoy that role the most! I try my best to give my children quality time. Although I don’t know how much score my sons will give me in that (laughs)! My eldest son is 16. When he started going to school, I always made it a point to drop him off at school so that we could spend time together. My younger one is just 4½ years old and I always take him along with me wherever possible.
I take pleasure in being a wife, a daughter and a daughter-in-law, as well. Right now, I’m enjoying being with the public since I’ve joined politics. All these years, I’ve been with designing and wasn’t associated with politics, or any political party, until I joined the BJP. Earlier, my interaction was with the cream de la cream of society. And now, I’m mingling with the masses as I go for programmes and give speeches. So, it’s a different experience and I’m enjoying it because I love to work for people.
Team Optimist: You’ve worked with some of the most powerful and talented people in the world — Hillary Clinton and Sridevi. Do you remember any instance that you would like to share?
Agnimitra Paul: Srideviji was a very special person to me because I started my career with her. I was starting off with Manish Malhotra in 1997. At that time, I had just launched my label and was thinking of going to Mumbai. But, that same year, I got married and my in-laws were skeptical about it. So, I asked my dad to go along since I wanted to try my luck in Mumbai. I got a chance to meet Srideviji and she loved my clothing a lot. She asked me to design one for her and said that, if she liked it, I’d be designing for her films, too.
After a few months, I got a call from her asking to design for Esha Deol, because she was being launched. It was like a dream-come-true and that’s how I started working for Srideviji.
And, about Hillary Clinton — she was here in Kolkata in 2012. We were invited to La Martiniere School to meet her, along with other intellectuals from different fields in the city. I was fortunate enough to ask her a question and thought of gifting her a piece of couture from my label. There was a lot of security personnel with her. So, I passed it on to them and forgot about it after that. It was a beautiful stole designed for her from my label. But, after almost six months, I received a letter from Hillary Clinton, thanking me for it. It was so kind of her. I still have it framed and it’ll remain special forever.
Team Optimist: When you’re puzzled or in a fix, whom do you call for help?
Agnimitra Paul: I call Sai Baba and Baba Loknath for help as I’m their disciple and I know for sure they’ll help me find a way out of my troubles. So, I believe I have three fathers — Baba Loknath, Sai Baba and, of course, my own father.
Team Optimist: You’re socially active and a part of the BJP now. Do you think you have to compromise with your creative identity while maintaining a balance between the two?
Agnimitra Paul: Not at all. I’d love to use the creativity I’ve been using to make beautiful clothing which people term ‘designer clothing’. Now, I’ll channel it to empower women in India. Given a platform, I’d encourage women to be what they desired to be! I believe nothing is impossible and we have only one life. So, I don’t want any woman to think log kya kahenge and do just what they’d wish to. I think no woman should die thinking they didn’t get the opportunity to pursue what they love.
Team Optimist: PM Narendra Modi isn’t known only for his oratory skills, but also for his fashion sense. If you got a chance to design for him, would you?
Agnimitra Paul: Of course. I admire Modi ji a lot and that’s the sole reason I joined the BJP. He motivates me as a person and inspires me through his speeches. He has impressive oratory skills in spite of not having high qualifications. Also, he understands and works for women and their sufferings as he aims to make our lives better through various schemes. He’s very thoughtful and sensitive, which is really impressive and I’d definitely like to design for him one day.
Team Optimist: Fashion and politics have always worked side by side as Indian politicians, such as Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi, are known for their sartorial sense. Do dresses have an impact on public figures?
Agnimitra Paul: Definitely. They need to be presentable all the time! In fact, you’d see homemakers also dressing up while going grocery shopping as they, too, want to look presentable. So, whether you are a homemaker, a professional, or a politician, you need to be presentable to market yourself. For instance, I wear my label because that’s the best way of marketing them.
Team Optimist: India’s made its mark in the fashion industry with such people as Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai and many others. But we’ve always been a market for global brands, while home-grown artistes still struggle with poverty and other issues. Can we, as a nation, change the fashion industry’s status?
Agnimitra Paul: I feel we lack marketing. We have beautiful items, but still, need to do the right marketing. For instance, we can’t sell a saree to a foreigner because she won’t wear a saree. But, if we add a modern touch to it, with elements that are fashionable and trendy, she’d definitely be interested. I guess that’s what the government needs to do and it’s very possible.
I feel it’s our duty to promote our weavers as the next generation doesn’t want to be weavers and are rapidly moving towards urban lifestyles. So, we need to address this.