In 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the globe, Kalyani Dere found herself back home in India, staring down a crossroads. After decades living the “corporate life” in the United States, she was feeling the pull of family and tradition in her native country. “I was ready for a change,” she says. She didn’t know quite what that change would entail, but this particular trip seemed significant in the process.
Kalyani grew up in the Mumbai area, where she earned a bachelor’s degree before coming to the U.S. to study business at the University of Connecticut. There she collected an MBA and embarked on a career in data analytics, making stops at Anthem and SunTrust, among others. Along the way she settled in the Richmond area and gave birth to her son, Rohan. All the while, India remained near and dear.
Kalyani had made the 2019 trip to Mumbai to see her ailing father one last time. Her mother, Shalan Dere, was also in Mumbai at the time – she splits time between India and the house near Twin Hickory where Kalyani lives with her husband Girish. Shalan is a talented, self-taught ceramic artist who has been selling her creations for years. In this family, artistic expression is a way of life.
A Creative Tradition
In much of rural India, there is a long tradition of families supporting themselves by selling handmade arts and crafts. As India’s countryside has increasingly given way to sprawling urban areas, many artisans have been forced to relocate to cities and adopt less creative occupations to make a living.
“In today’s world, handmade is dying out,” Kalyani says. “Painting, pottery, woodworking, weaving, and even handwriting are so important. These are skills we need to keep alive.”
“Art is something to be treasured and creating anything with one’s hands is a gift,” she continues. “Supporting local artists encourages and sustains their art and skills and this then can be passed down from one generation to another.”
When she returned to the Richmond area from her pre-pandemic India trip, Kalyani had decided to bring the family ceramic and pottery business with her and dedicate her time to growing the business in the U.S. She has done so while juggling a new career as a Realtor for Next Home Advantage Realty.
Kalyani and Shalan’s joint venture, primarily an online business with a showroom at Kalyani’s house, is called The Urban Kiln. Shalan is the primary creator, while Kalyani handles most of the business side. Shalan, like Kalyani, has a background in business. Working with clay began as a hobby two decades ago, but it is now Shalan’s full-time pursuit.
In a video on The Urban Kiln’s website, Shalan describes how she was drawn to pottery: “I wasn’t trained for pottery; I was trained for management,” she explains. “But the way clay happened, it was like it just pushed me there. There was no reason I’d have to give up everything and go to clay. Absolutely no reason. But – it happened,” she ends with a laugh.
Kalyani says her mother’s ceramic creations embody the “beauty of imperfection,” a trait inherent across art forms and handmade enterprises. Natural blemishes impart a personal nature that is missing from mass-produced commercial items. “We create pottery that connects with people on an artistic and human level,” Kalyani explains. “Each piece has an emotion and a story to tell.”
Pursuing deep-seated passions is the norm in Kalyani’s household. Her husband Girish, a senior IT manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, is also an avid hiker and mountain climber. He returned recently from a trip to Africa during which he summited Mount Kilimanjaro. He is planning the ultimate mountaineering adventure for 2025 – an Everest expedition.
Their son Rohan is a 24 year-old VCU graduate who lives in Arlington. He works for a digital marketing company and, in the family tradition, spends much of his spare time on a creative venture: music. He records under the name rohan!, and has released one album with another in the works. He also enjoys hiking and rock climbing, and is considering joining Girish on the slopes of Everest if things work out.
The family is well-traveled, having visited 30 countries together by Kalyani’s count. Their next planned trip is to Tanzania to explore the Serengeti. Exploring nature and the outdoors is a constant on family trips. Everywhere they go, Kalyani says, they make it a point to visit local artisans and international farmers markets, where they shop for food products, paintings, home decor, jewelry, and more.
For Kalyani, supporting creative endeavors is a way to keep culture alive – not just Indian culture, but all cultures. After all, art is among the things that make us human and bind us together, transcending differences and embracing imperfections.
*This article was published in Neighbors - A community magazine for Wyndham & Twin Hickory neighborhoods in Glen Allen, VA
Contact Kalyani Dere at firstname.lastname@example.org for Real Estate inquiries in the Greater Richmond area.