Socialite Meera Gandhi is having some serious fun New York jetsetter Meera Gandhi has a secret – she’s still a child at heart. While most people put away their dollhouses and toy tea sets, birthday parties and imaginary friends as they grow up, Meera still indulges in all that – except she’s substituted them with the real thing.
What could be more fun than playing house in the historic townhouse where First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once lived? This is now home for Meera and her husband Vikram, the co-head of global banking at a major investment bank in New York, and many a grand soiree has been held here for celebrities and movers and shakers like Mike Wallace, Paula Zahn, Pamela Wollin, the Consul General of Canado, Robert Thurmon, Satish Gujral, Mira Nair, Ismail Merchant and Kerry Kennedy. Birthday parties? Meera loves them and threw herself and Vikram a grand 40th birthday bash last year with over 200 people, including friends like Steven and Kimberly Rockefeller and Phylicia Rashad.
Her favourite kind of carpet is red carpet and she loves hobnobbing with the beautiful and powerful, be it Queen Noar, Prince Pavlos or Senator Hilary Clinton.
She may not be dressing up Barbie dolls any more, but her own stylish wardrobe covers every designer from Oscar de la Renta to Versace to Monish Malhotra, and you rarely see her in the same outfit twice. The paparazzi love that.
What makes it easier for her to indulge the child in her is the fact that all the partying and socializing is generally for a good cause, The spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt is very much in the house. with pictures of the First Lady during her India trip on the walls of the foyer. The Gandhis spent over two years restoring the house.
The house has a certain cachet, which makes it a great venue for holding swanky parties, Meera hosted Amnesty International’s Trustee Dinner along with Kerry Kennedy; a reception for Eleanor Roosevelt’s grand-daughter Anne Roosevelt to raise funds for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI); she also had the Asia on My Mind dinner with the theme ‘Passage to India’ with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. She organized a fundraiser for Artisans’ International. which is based in Washington D.C. All these events helped raise funds for these organizations.
She also hosted a couture sale by top Indian designers at her home, which was organized with the American ambassador’s wife and raised funds for the Gujarat earthquake. More recently, she hosted a cocktail reception for the gala benefit premiere of Vanity Fair. with the proceeds going to Salaam Balak Trust and the Indo-American Arts Council.
Sometimes the parties are just for fun, such as when Dev Anand was in town shooting for Love in Timo Square and she threw him a launch party, complete with cake and candles.
Yet, if you thought that Meera was painting the town pink, partying and Jetting around all day, you’d be dead wrong, She Just doesn’t fit the social butterfly image. While most society princesses would be in bed till at least mid-day, Meera is up at 6 a,m. preparing breakfast for her three kids – Kiran. 15. Kanika, 11 and Kabie 7.
The children’s routines are the most important part of her day, as she chauffeurs them to school and helps them with their homework. She volunteers her time at Chapin, her daughter’s school, and helps with the admissions there. She says, “I really believe that for the future of the schooL it’s important that it has a lot of diversity by having a non-American involved in the admissions process.”
The daughter of an admiral in the Indian navy and an Irish mother, Meera basically grew up in India, going to convent schools in Bombay, Poona and Delhi. Even as a kid, she loved being centre stage, She recalls, “When I was in 10th grade, I was head girl of St. Anne’s, and then I moved to Cathedral where I was head girl too, even though I was the new kid on the block. And that’s where I met my husband, he was in my closs, sitting right behind me,” Although she met her husband, Vikram, when she was 15, she left for Canada where she studied at the Lester B, Pearson College on a scholarship from World College. Later, she studied at University of Delhi.
She married Vikram in 1987, and the two came to the U.S. together to go to business school. Meera to Boston University and Vikram to Harvard. Their first child was reared in their dorm at Harvard! She says, “We were living in the housing for married students and it’s pretty spartan. A child was so much work. Vikram would hold her and study, and I would hold her and study, and both of us did really well.” Meera, in fact. graduated Beta Gamma Sigma, the top five percent of her graduating class.
Both went into investment banking, Meera working for Banque Nationale du Paris and Banque Indo- Suisse. After that she switched careers and worked as a buyer for Lord and Taylor for five years after which she did work for Calvin Klein, Armani and Oscar de 10 Renta, collaborating with her mother in India.
Work and pleasure became one when she dabbled in the fashion world, Her wardrobe has Manish Malhotra, Rina Dhaka, Rohit BaL Oscar De la Renta, Versace, Escada, Chanel and Givenchy.
‘”I never wear head-to-toe anyone,” she says. ” I always mix and love to bring my own sense of style to what I wear, I was couture buyer at Lord and Taylor and learned a lot about dressing myself while deciding what my customers should wear! The many fashion shows I attended as part of my job taught me a lot too.” Ten years and three kids later, the couple moved back to India for three years where Meera initiated the International Play School in Bombay, a feeder school to the American School. with swimming, yoga, painting and other activities for kids from the ages of 16 months to three years.
Back in the U.S. Meera has taken a long sabbatical from work to bring up the kids and to indulge her own interests. The days are usually filled with charity events or social lunches, She says, “Of late, I seem to do less things far fun – my fun and my work is all in one because I have such a good time doing it. I love meeting people, I love learning, and I love being out there.”
So, how does she fit in all the frenetic partying and socializing that gives her title of New York Socialite? She lets you in on a secret: “I never go early for anything – I pretty much miss the cocktail hour!”
She’s involved with several causes and sits on the board of the United Worid College in the U.S. as well as the Pearson UWC board, recalling the scholarship that started her out: “I got a fine education and a fine opportunity, so I really believe in giving back,”
She’s on the board of Safety Net, a London based organization that helps battered women in Muslim countries, and on the board of Grameen Digital Partners Foundation. And since Meera lives in what was Eleanor Roosevelt’s final home, she’s a trustee of the board of Val-Kill (Mrs. Roosevelt’s summer home) and is on the board of governors of FERI.
Although she seeks out adventure, sometimes adventure seeks her out, especially when she happens to be at the right place at the right time. This is what happened when she went to the Pearl Exhibit opening at the prestigious Natural History Museum. The curator loved the Sri Lankan pearls she was wearing, and said they ought to be in the exhibit. Meera agreed, and now her pearls are jetsetting around the world in the exhibit, traveling to London, Tokyo, Milan, Rome, Houston and Taronto!
“They are going allover the world, and it’s so exciting!” says Meera. ” I get invitations to all these gala openings – not that I’ve been able to go – it’s just wild and so much fun!” So her pearls are in the museums where thousands take a look at them, along with Meera’s picture which is right there next to them. While In Toronto recently, she made a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum to visit the pearl exhibit. She arrived on a day that the museum was closed, but the curator opened It especially far her. Talk about VIP status!
The child in her is still curious about other lives, other worlds. So, on a whim, she joined a whole group of Wharton School alumni in Russia, She recalls, “I had just the best time – I learnt so much. The most outrageous thing I did was in Putin’s palace – I sat in Putin’s choir! I almost got booted out but I just felt like seeing what that felt like!”
A fun mom, she enjoys giving her children the perfect New York growing up, with its mix of cultural activities. She tools around Manhattan in her SUV, picking up and dropping off her kids, planning perfect birthday parties for them, and actually taking the oldest, Kiron, to an MTV party or on the red carpet with celebs like Reese Witherspoon at the recent Vanity Fair premiere,
Holidays are usually spent in Ritz Carlton villas around the world or traveling to India to meet the family. This year alone, she’s traveled to Moscow, St Petersburg, Hong Kong, ShanghaI. Beijing, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, London, Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, West Palm Beach, Colorado and Los Angeles.
An out and out optimist, Meera always sees the positive side of things: “We are to the universe only as much as we can contribute. Beyond that, life is mere existence and has little importance:’ she says, expiaining her support of various causes. “This drives my life and gives it meaning as well as happiness.” Then, she adds with a conspirational smile, “While doing this, I am amazed that one can have so much fun as well!” In fact, for her, fundraisers are funraisers.
Recently, Meera posed for a photo portrait by the celebrity artist Baba Anand, who transformed her into an ethereal nymph rising out of the ocean, her hands joined in meditation, The ultimate in make believe, the imaginary games of childhood! The image ran in Now York Magazine and Meera has it on her website. Obviously, she’s having a lot of tongue in cheek fun with it.
Yes, life is a ball, a non-stop party, and Meera Gandhi Is determined to enjoy every last dance and every last aria – and in the process, help the causes she believes in.