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THE CREATIVE SPIRIT – Neeru Rayamajhi Khatri
It’s not that often that you bump into a successful woman entrepreneur who is so grounded that she has no problems hitching a ride on a scooter. Neeru Rayamajhi Khatri, among Nepal’s prominent interior designers and the General Secretary of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal, is all that and a whole lot more. Yet it is her simplicity that lures you right from the start. She showed up at 1905 – relaxed – in a simple green saree. Her laid back yet extremely strong persona came through as we talked. Neeru says that she realised the value of money at a very young age and was since committed to becoming financially independent. Today she wears that success easy.
The early years
“I feel sorry for the kids today, all they ever do is sit with their laptop. Growing up then was fun. We played a lot of outdoor games, lived in large extended families with lots of kids our age,” she says going down memory lane. As the eldest Neeru learnt to shoulder the responsibility of the youngsters in her family and by 11 she could cook an entire meal. Her fascination for interior designing began early when her parents built their own house. “I was small and I loved watching the house being constructed, especially once they started doing the interiors. But no one would ever listen to me and this would get me all frustrated.”
The hippies with their cannabis, Bollywood movies and actresses in bells and minis, long hair and bell bottoms were all in, yet Neeru hated going to the cinema. To her it was just a stuffy room filled with smoke and people staring at a screen. She preferred being on her own. She loved being outdoors and reading. Unlike most girls’ her age, she was deeply fascinated with money. She hated the fact that her mom was financially dependent. “I hated that my mom would have to beg for money every single time, not for her needs but for the family. This made me determined to become financially independent,” she recalls.
After high school, she wasn’t really sure about what she wanted to do. All she knew was that she didn’t want a conventional degree that would help her get a 9-5 job, she wanted to do something different and she wanted to create. “I always wanted to work my own way, nothing too academic but yet something that could earn me a good living,” she says. This was how she went to Mumbai to study Interior design in one of India’s most prestigious art schools. After graduating from Sir J. J. School of Art, Neeru found herself in a fix. She had to coax her parents to send her to Mumbai and on returning she had come home to start a career in a field that was literally nonexistent. “People hardly hired interior decorators there. So I first started working in a furniture production company.” After working some months, she switched to working with an engineering consultancy where a separate department was created for her, and this is where she got hands on experience in interior designing.
However, she didn’t want to spend her life working for someone. She loved her freedom. After months of contemplation, she quit her job and began her own interior design company from a makeshift room at home. “It was a good because I now had kids so I could work from home and could be near them when they needed me the most.”
Neeru says that it is her ability to prioritise that eventually led to her success, “It’s never really about balance. It’s more about priorities and what works best for you. For me my role as a mother was very important, so starting my own company from home was the best decision I took at that time. Balancing work-life becomes much easier when you know your priorities. That coupled with the ability to persuade and stay organised can help any entrepreneur attain success”.
“There are two things that I learnt from my two bosses at the companies I worked for before starting out on my own,” shares Neeru.
Lesson one: The art of persuasion
My first boss at the Balaju Kastha Karyalaye was very persuasive. She could look at a green table and sell it off as a white one literally. She was such an impressive and strong person that she could literally always make a sale. She taught me that I needed to bull doze my ideas to my clients because many times clients only see one aspect of the design.
Lesson 2: Importance of being organised
My second boss was very focused and had exceptional organisational skills. He kept everything in order, every client and employee file was kept in such an organised manner and he never missed out on a single detail. For someone like me who was laid back and care free, this lesson kept me from failing when I started managing big projects and had to juggle between home and work.
Neeru also says that she was lucky to have bumped into likeminded women who coaxed her into joining the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal where she could share her problems, explore collective solutions, and expand her horizons as an entrepreneur.
“My mom has always been my idol. She worshipped her family. Her kids and her duties were like a prayer to her. Everything about raising us was auspicious to her. This quality among all her other qualities has inspired me into becoming who I am today,” she remembers.
This interior designer loves nothing more than reaching out and touching other lives. Bringing happiness to others is what makes her happy.
“Nepali traditional arts and crafts are slowly dying. My next big project is about incorporating Nepali traditional art forms like basket making, block prints and wood work into contemporary designs,” she says about her effort to reach out to traditional artisans.