A Jewelry Feud, Set In Jaipur and on Madison Avenue
On a recent morning when Siddharth Kasliwal came downstairs, his mother dropped a sheaf of papers on the table in front of him. “Potential brides,” he said later. “There were some party pictures, clippings about their families. My mother is getting impatient. There are 15 to 20 serious candidates, and already in my life I’ve met seven or eight of the girls.”
Siddharth, or Sid to his friends, is 31: handsome, cultured, deferential, occasionally preening — at once humbled and entitled by his privileged birthright as a ninth-generation co-owner of the Gem Palace, India’s most glamorous jewelry business. The Gem Palace was a sleepy favorite, before he was born, of Jackie Kennedy, Marella Agnelli, and Lord Mountbatten, among others.
Now there are satellite boutiques around the world, including in Istanbul, Tokyo, and New York. His father, Munnu, and an uncle, Sanjay, were the public faces of the business for decades. But Munnu died of brain cancer in 2012 at 54, and Sanjay has spent much of the past few years receiving treatment in Europe for lymphoma. (The family attributes their illnesses to the cell-phone towers that used to stand near their home.)
That has left the two oldest men of Sid’s generation — him, along with Sanjay’s son, Samir — as the cousins in whose uncallused hands the future of the Gem Palace rests.
“It’s more pressure, man, heavy-duty responsibility. But it’s a dream life,” Sid said over the late-breakfast buffet at Rambagh Palace, the last-days-of-the-Raj hotel in Jaipur where he often takes his meals. Still, without a bride, everything feels incomplete, unresolved, “as if I owe an outstanding debt to my parents.”
He has no problem with the inevitability of an arranged marriage. “The logic of having two families join forces makes good sense, believe it or not,” he said. “In modern Indian society, you are introduced to a woman very formally, with mothers and fathers present, but from that point, you get together discreetly to see how you like one another. You say, ‘We are both adults here.’ ”
The other day, Sid was riding across town with some British clients visiting from Morocco — a lighting designer and his wife, a former model. Sid had his driver pull over beside a stucco hut that had been built into a gully. It was a tiny Muslim temple, and even though Sid and his family are Jains, he said, “whenever I pass this place I stop to make a wish because one of my best friends is Muslim.” He found a few coins and blew a kiss into his hand before tossing them out the window onto the building’s tin roof.
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