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Young Philanthropist Rudritara Shroff On Her Passion For Art

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Jeena J Billimoria

All of 16, the outgoing and intelligent Rudritara Shroff gears up for an engaging conversation with HELLO! after just having completed her exams at the prestigious American School of Bombay (ASB), where she’s currently studying the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. With a smile, she shares, “I’ve been born, bred and raised in Mumbai.”

The youngest daughter of Poonam Bhagat Shroff (of the Nirlon family) and industrialist Jaidev Shroff has been a competitive athlete since the age of six, participating in almost all track and field events, particularly sprints and long jump in school. “I am also an avid skier and recently completed Level 5 (an advanced level) last March. Skiing is really something I look forward to every year!” shares Rudritara.

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Inducted into the beautiful world of art since babyhood, Rudritara has now used her appreciation for the craft for a new book, titled Art for Baby, an homage to an already existing tome for babies with the same name. Reaching out to 15 globally renowned Indian artists to contribute — including Reena Kallat, Atul and Anju Dodiya, Gigi Scaria, Manish Nai, Shilpa Gupta, Jyoti and Jyotsna Bhatt, NS Harsha, Amol Patil, Sudarshan Shetty, Bijoy Jain, Shakuntala Kulkarni, Dhruvi Acharya and Jogen Chowdhury — this artistically monochrome book is designed for infants aged zero to three months.

Rudritara tells us how this lovely project came about and her aspirations for the future of infant cognitive development. All proceeds from the project go to charity, supporting children’s welfare through partnerships with UNICEF and Outset UK.

HELLO!: Rudritara, where does your interest in art stem from? Has your family, particularly your mother, influenced your passion for the arts?

Rudritara Shroff: “From my earliest memories, art has played a pivotal role in shaping my perception and understanding of the world. My personal journey with art began with high-contrast flashcards and the first edition of Art for Baby, a thoughtful gift from one of its founders, Candida Gertler. This precious gift, alongside my grandmother Rajani Bhagat’s collection of black-and-white drawings, which she used to nurture my visual skills, introduced me to the world of art.

rudritara shroff©HelloIndia

When I was born, my mother was in the midst of building my family home with the noted architect, Bijoy Jain, who is also one of the contributors to my book. My mother’s vision of producing site-specific Indian contemporary artworks and installations in our home gave me the opportunity of growing up with art 24/7 and interacting with various artists working on her project, who were constantly in and out of our home. This, along with my maternal grandparents’ extensive collection of the Indian Moderns, the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group and early contemporary works, exposed me to a comprehensive collection of Indian art. All this, coupled with constant visits to art galleries, the Kochi Biennale when it first opened in 2012, artist studios, museums and art fairs all around the world, opened a new world for me.”

H!: What motivated you to put together your own version of Art for Baby, a project focused on infant development, at such a young age?

RS: “Studying Art for Baby at a higher level, my interest in psychology intensified, particularly about the application of art in medical contexts. I became captivated by how art, particularly high-contrast images, could play a vital role in the early cognitive development of infants. It was in April 2022, propelled by this intrigue and my academic pursuits in the US, that I revisited the precious book from Candida Gertler. Inspired to forge a connection between my Indian heritage and this newfound academic passion, I began conceptualising another version of Art for Baby. This version would target a different age group, targeting infants of zero to three months, who can only perceive black, white and shades of grey. In contrast, the earlier version was designed for babies aged nine months and older, who can recognise shapes, focus and gauge distance.

Reaching out to artists to illustrate this vision, my aim was not only to stimulate infant minds with the art but also to kindle a philanthropic spirit. This endeavour bridges my lifelong engagement with art and my unwavering commitment to child welfare.”

H!: How did you manage to involve so many high-profile artists in your initiative and establish a partnership with UNICEF?

RS: “I reached out to the top Indian contemporary artists by email and explained my project’s vision and its philanthropic goals. The project was warmly received and supported gratis by all the artists. I fondly remember collecting loose change for UNICEF before each flight, asking everyone for their contributions. This small act of kindness grew into a strong bond with UNICEF over the years. It’s no surprise that when conceptualising the contemporary version of Art for Baby, UNICEF was my first choice for collaboration.”

H!: What do you hope to achieve through this initiative? How do you envision making a difference?

RS: “The primary goal of Art for Baby is to contribute to the visual and cognitive development of newborns through high-contrast black-and-white images and introducing baby to the world of art. By engaging their developing senses, the book aims to strengthen eye muscles, enhance visual tracking skills and stimulate brain growth.

rudritara shroff©HelloIndia

Proceeds from book sales and the auction of all these artworks by Christie’s will support my goal of actively participating with UNICEF India for child welfare projects in Maharashtra and Outset Contemporary Art Fund for vulnerable children’s projects. Both UNICEF India and Outset utilise art therapy to enhance children’s quality of life, self-esteem and mental health. Through hands-on work at the ground level, I aim to witness the tangible impact of raised funds, bridging the gap between artistic initiatives and real-world positive change for children.”

H!: Coming from a position of privilege, do you feel an inherent sense of responsibility to do your part in helping those less advantaged?

RS: “Last October, I spent one week teaching English to Tibetan refugees in the rural township of Mcleod Ganj, Dharamshala. There, among eager minds in search of knowledge, I came face-to-face with my own privilege, understanding education as a vessel for empowerment and connection. This realisation further cemented my desire to use my privilege of the education and learning I have received for the greater good of society, in whatever small way that I can. This experience also led me to locally volunteer once a week with Aseema, where I teach English and communication skills to kids in Class 5 and above.

With every initiative I embark on, I try to use the advantages I’ve been blessed with to enact positive change and extend opportunities to others.”

H!: There is a perception that your generation lacks empathy. How do you respond to such postulations?

RS: “While the opinion that my generation lacks empathy is a perception that I encounter frequently, my personal experiences and observations tell a more hopeful story. I feel that what is often perceived as a deficit of empathy is, in reality, a shortfall in patience. Patience is the pathway to empathy — as it is through patience that we take the time to understand and connect with the perspectives and experiences of others. I recently wrote an essay on this topic and am happy to share that it has been handpicked to be showcased the 2024 Global Empathy Conference in Prague!”

H!: What are some other interests you have?

RS: “I enjoy western ballroom dancing, which I pursued as coursework for Physical Education in my IGCSE board exams last year. I’ve also recently started kickboxing a couple times a week for fun which I’m really enjoying so far! Mostly, I love exploring and visiting unusual things and places like the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, which is something that I still think about…”

H!: Do you travel a lot? Which places are currently on your bucket list?

RS: “Yes, I love travelling both in India and abroad. My bucket list consists of the Char Dham Yatra of Rameshwaram, Jagannath-Puri, Badrinath-Kedarnath and Dwarka this year. As for international trips, I’d love to visit the Galápagos Islands during the turtle hatching season and climb Machu Picchu!”

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s April 2024 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!