Vinayak Bahuguna

CEO & MD, Arcil

The Colourful Explorations of a Trained Optimist
by Sunayana Nair
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“Life is ordained and yet there is something you have to do to make meaning out of it!.”

How often would one chance upon a financial whiz, heading one of the premier asset reconstruction companies in India, explore life keenly through art and be a crusader for keeping among its most ancient forms and lore alive? Well, that is Vinayak Bahuguna, CEO and Managing Director, Arcil (Asset Reconstruction Company India Ltd.). Vinayak is also Founder & Promoter of Artspread.com – an art portal that discovers hidden artistic talent and provides lesser known and upcoming Indian artists from the remotest parts of the country with a global platform to showcase quality Indian Art.

“I believe a lot of what we do ends up without too much planning and sometimes you need to go with the flow.”

Vinayak’s discovery of art was very much like his initiation into finance. It was by chance – albeit, what differed, was the rapid intensity with which art captivated his mind and soul. He wasn’t as stoked about the Chartered Accountancy (CA) course which Vinayak, a history enthusiast found to be quite boring, but, persisted nevertheless, convinced it was his ticket to making it big. While a young and ambitious Vinayak, who hailed from a middle-class family of civil servants, made up his mind to pursue the CA degree after a candid chat with a friend who listed it as one of the best ways to rake in good moolah, it was a chance visit to an art exhibition with a colleague at Dhaka in 1998, that dipped his world, predominated by numbers, in a variety of colourful hues.

“Art can be inanimate at times. It doesn’t give you the setting under which it has been created. So, it can be an incomplete story. Every art I own has a story and a connect with an artist; it becomes a part of me. To me, it is about understanding people, how they express themselves, and it helps you in everyday life too.”

Vinayak was heading the Corporate Audit vertical at Standard Chartered Bank for the Middle East & South Asia region, and traveled long hours, extensively, at that time. A painting of a lone fisherman against a greyish dark seascape, captivated Vinayak and spoke to him of the loneliness he felt while travelling for work, striking an instant empathetic connect with the subject. That was his first buy. Thus began his visits to galleries, exhibitions, museums and his study of paintings, especially, abstracts. Over the due course of time, Vinayak got consumed by the need to connect with the artists and understand their story, their angst and language, to absorb the sanctity of what they were trying to depict. He had some revealing encounters with artists over the country, from the remotest corners and it was the passion to enable them to project their story and make quality art accessible to everyone that led him to launch Artspread.com.

"The ability for artists to showcase work is quite limited in India. I wanted the diversity and cultural richness to somehow become more seen, more appreciated... I also wanted people to explore art with freedom. So, a platform where cost was not an issue, (available in) more affordable formats, including being able to transfer things easily and not being tied down to something you own, that’s the concept I put in place with artspread.com. It is in its early days and slow to pick up. But, I want to persist and want to find funding for it; make art more easily accessible to those who would willingly bring it home and celebrate life with it."

Trying to achieve a middle ground between art and money might seem a high ideal to strive towards, but it seems promising if one were to look at the way the online marketplace resulted in the sudden growth of the Indian Art market (comprising majorly of paintings) roughly valued currently at Rs.1000-1200 crores compared to Rs. 50 crores, last decade! Vinayak, who admittedly thrives on a worthy challenge, believes ‘everyone can do more’ and believes in the latent potential of Indian artists. Vinayak (who believes humbly that his biggest achievement is yet to come) has worked his way through the top rung of the corporate ladder over the past three decades purely on his grit and persistence. He loves to throw down the gauntlet not only to himself but to the people around him, and the status quo, by exploring than imposing options. Be it in playing almost every kind of team sport at school (he attended the reputed all-boys boarding The Doon School) or college, persisting with his dream of clearing CA exams in spite of not being successful initially, or trying to engrave a sense of art into the young minds of his reluctant daughters, taking them to exhibitions and museums little knowing they would pursue distant aspects of it through beauty and architecture years later, or challenging artists to go beyond their comfort zone and attempt something different.

“My family was very surprised with my interest in art because they knew I had no bone in my body that even spelt art. But, we all evolve over time. We get into being people we never were and we get to be people we wanted to be.”

Vinayak Bahuguna with better half

With his better half

Vinayak Bahuguna - Art Lover

Art lover

“Art shows me possibilities, differences, expression and freedom; it shows me discipline, dedication and creativity; it exposes me to more questions and more answers; it digs deep and forces me to think and that can lead to thinking more openly, without agendas.”

One such quest for seeking Thangka paintings found him exploring the lesser-explored but picturesque, Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Accompanied by his daughters, Vinayak, travelling without any prior planning as always, found himself in the district magistrate’s office enquiring for artists specialising in Thangka only to find one in the region. It was an encounter which formally inducted him into the Buddhist concepts of mandalas, chakras and the philosophy of how ‘life is ordained and yet there is something you have to do to make meaning out of it’. However, it was the tale of the sole artist that struck a chord with him the most, who had somehow managed to recruit an apprentice, determined to preserve the legacy of his forefathers. ‘The image of the last man standing’ made a deep impact on Bahuguna. True to his style, Vinayak returned home and sent across boxes of canvas and paints to the artist, encouraging him to try painting on canvas (Thangka paintings are usually done on fabric). Vinayak is currently exploring ways to see how he can be of help to sustain the artist’s vision of setting up an academy in the region.

"I didn’t realize how open I was to accepting things. Just the ability to appreciate something new and different, to be able to see things the way someone else sees it. I won't say it was a wakeup call, but it was revealing in that, I hadn’t realised aspects of my personality which were underdeveloped. So, the realisation that I can do much more, I am open to much more, I can be tempted, I can get satiated, I can explore and I can continue exploring..."

vinayak-bahuguna-in-melodious-mood

In a melodious mood

Remarkably, for all his steel hardiness, Vinayak was unprepared for discovering his own openness and readiness to accept the unfamiliar, as his fascination for art grew, complemented by his yearning for discovering what lay yonder. His love for travel and exploring new places with his group, is an inclination that appealed to him right from his schoolboy days – traversing adventurous trails on various school team outings. His desire to connect with people and their stories stems from his childhood and earliest memories, which he acknowledges, helped him live a life of extending value, to both family and friends, who are of utmost significance to him.

vinayak-bahuguna-in-casual-avatar

In a casual avatar

“As a person, I am keen, curious; I am here to learn. I am here to explore the strengths I might possess or I might not know of, yet. I want to know more of the world, people, cultural identities and have a fuller life in every sense of the word. Besides that, for me, it is about living with values, supporting family and friends, finding ways to have fun.”

Describing them as ‘enchanting experiences’, Vinayak’s fondest childhood memories remain of going to his grandmother’s house for his summer vacations with his siblings as they all inhabited adjacent rooms at Dehradun and ‘every nook and corner got you to an experience’. He was influenced primarily by the women in the house, his mother in particular. This is evident when he mentions hers would have been the one portrait he would like to have drawn, if he had been endowed with the skills! It is the inheritance of his mother’s moral compass and values of caring not only for the immediate family but of working towards the greater good of the community at large that admittedly held Vinayak in good stead. Perhaps, it is here, that his need to seek the story of a person or to understand the intent guiding the ferocity of the brushstrokes can be traced to. It also colours his people-centric leadership approach empowered by a ‘greater awareness that comes with understanding people well’. His unique experiences with people encouraged him to pen a book which Vinayak intends to complete writing in a year. The title, ‘Deep Ends’, is inspired from an interesting encounter Vinayak had in Barcelona with an eccentric Nigerian hotel receptionist who had come to Europe to find better opportunities.

"Why do some companies do well and others don’t? If everyone had a process and a way of doing things, we could all end up doing the same things. It is not just that; it is people at the end of it. For me, it is the greater awareness of having to understand people well. To know what motivates people so you can work with that, and to also figure out that if there are challenges how to deal with challenges by adopting a ‘What if’ or ‘Can we do it’ approach, rather than a ‘We just need to do it’."

A recurrent theme that Vinayak seems to be drawn to, either through art, his travel or the numerous books he reads on mythology, history, politics (he highly recommends books by Leon Uris and James Michener) are stories of immigrants – people who have had to flee their homes, or have been displaced and their dealings with it. How does one seek familiarity in zones that are not only unfamiliar, unchartered, but also not conducive or unrelenting? It may not be a question that is entirely alien to Vinayak, considering his profession of identifying and turning around companies battling an acute identity crisis, not having much to show on paper and yet holding potential, as also his drive to help connect with the world, the untold story of a talented though obscure artist, determined to retain his legacy and pride.

“I was heavily involved in team sports while young. And like every sportsman, you don’t feel like coming second. So, it was about pushing me to do better and better. That is what guided me. It was about pushing myself into areas; whether I did well or not, was secondary. I only wanted to try.”

As with most worthwhile though unforthcoming questions, the answer might simply be to live the question and be committed to embrace it and whatever comes along with it. What matters is the intent to explore the unknown or the unseen – developing an infallible porosity. There cannot be a more deserving cause as Vinayak puts than to discover one’s ikigai – what the Japanese call the reason for being, which beseeches one ‘to explore who you are, why you are, what you have done, and what you want to do.’ It was T. S. Eliot who had said, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” It seems to aptly define the journey of this ‘trained but not born optimist’, who began with a single-minded pursuit of mastering the art of creating wealth but was transformed entirely with the wealth of knowledge he amassed by discovering art!

CXOFUNFACTS with

Favourite colour

Blue

Favourite eating joints

Oh! Calcutta, Shalimar & Gallops

Favourite comfort food

Khichdi

Recommended books

Books by Leon Uris and James Michener

Your top 3 wishes

Visit Mt. Kailash; Take a Mahindra Jeep around 600 districts of India & Build a house in the hills

If you could paint whose portrait you would like to draw

Mother

Personalities you admire

Military generals such as Genghis Khan, Napoleon, etc.

3 facts people wouldn’t believe about you

I am an introvert; Have no talent in any kind of art; Can get annoyed easily

Favourite holiday destination

Africa. Wildlife parks in Tanzania and Kenya

An Indian leader you admire

Kailash Satyarthi

Favourite movie

Life is beautiful

A person who was most surprised when you launched Artspread

My Brother

Happiest moments

When listening to music- ghazal, qawalis and classical music

Vinayak Bahuguna is…

Not a born optimist but a trained optimist

Which is the most favourite chapter of your life that you wish could be painted on a canvas and by which artist

Me in a boxing ring by Francisco Goya, based on a memorable match I fought once at school

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