By Shilpi Madan
At 49, Farah Khan Ali is more than just a jewellery designer. An insatiable traveller, she is also mother to two fantastic kids Azaan and Fiza, and strongly believes everyone has their own balance to find in life. As she circles 25 enriching years in the world of jewellery, she distills her travels, inspirations, experiences in her coffee-table book Farah Khan: A Bejewelled Life. With designer Zarine Khan as mom and actor-filmmaker Sanjay Khan as dad, the genesis of the creative crucible was bound to happen in Farah, and her two younger sisters Simone (Khan Arora) and Sussanne Khan. Excerpts from a conversation:
How old are the children now?
(Smiles) Fiza 14, Azaan is 17.
Are you reeling under the teen tantrums?
Fiza is a beautiful, kind, soft-hearted soul who tells me every day that someone or the other is in need of help. She even saved her allowance to buy me a gift on my birthday. And just the other day, my son’s tutor was telling me that even though Azaan’s concepts in maths may not be that great, he is sincere and honest in his work. That is all I want, that my children grow up into good, compassionate human beings with respect for all.
How different were you at the same age?
I was perpetually outdoors. Till 14, I led a very protected life. Then my father made me travel by bus everyday to town for college. He also wanted me to learn from people who had nothing yet knew how to smile. Humility was sown into us early on.
What would you say has been the most important thing you have learnt from your mother?
It is very important for every woman to work and earn her own money. If you are financially independent, you have a voice. Else, you are giving control of your life to someone else. Thank God, my mother has always worked. Otherwise, we would have been wiped out as a family, when in 1989 a massive fire had ravaged the sets of my father’s production The Sword of Tipu Sultan. There were so many people who had to be paid, reimbursements to be taken care of….that was an extremely exacting period for all of us, financially and emotionally.
What is that something you learnt from Mom that you employ as a parent?
Objectivity and problem solving. Always listen to the other person to absorb the facts of the situation before taking a decision. Often, I would return home from school, upset over a fight, and she would hear me out, ask what the other person said and did to understand the entire run-up, and then explain to me why I was wrong. I saw prudence in this technique. See, I would rather have a spoilt child than a spoilt adult. I make use of the same technique with my own kids.
So your mother is the superglue of the family?
Absolutely. She holds the entire family together, takes the effort to plan lunches and dinners to ensure all of us can meet and catch up. She keeps track of everyone.
Your biggest takeaway from Dad?
Be respectful towards all, from a sweeper to a millionaire. I take after my father’s grit and determination.
One thing that Mom has always told the three of you?
We were always told that do not think you are the most beautiful girls in the universe. There are thousands better looking that you. Develop your own personality and a strong sense of character that sets you apart from others. We have ingrained this.
What is it that you tell Fiza and Azaan?
When I was growing up, I did nothing to bring disrepute to my family. I tell my children that they represent my upbringing. It is their duty to ensure that they do not let me down.
You can’t have it all easy. Are there no tantrums over, say buying branded stuff?
Oh yes. My son wanted me to buy him something branded and obviously very expensive. So and so actor-friend’s son had it, he argued…I told him that I bought my first branded belonging: a Louis Vuitton handbag when I was 25, with my own money. Why would I simply splurge right now and give them all? They need to earn and buy expensive branded items for themselves. Simple.
Do Azaan and Fiza have their own identities on social media?
Yes. But I never tag them. I delete any lines that lead me to their digital identities. There is a whole new virtual world out there. They will often argue that some actor’s son has ‘xyz’ followers on social media, they will ask me to tag them so that they get more ‘followers’, ‘likes’… you know how children are. But I do not give in. Then they tell me that all their friends follow me. I say, ‘please tell them to un-follow me’ (laughs).
No bargaining tactics, clearly, with you?
None. No sleepovers, unless at their cousins’ homes. They are too young. Any tantrums and comparisons with other parents and I tell them the door is open for them to leave and live in that other parents’ house. Once they leave, I will not let them in. My house, my rules. This is me.
No petitioning helps?
No. As I always say, no one is feeding me. Why should I bother about what others think of me? I know who I am. I love my kids. They are my life. I would drop the most important meeting anywhere in the world to be with them, and they know that.
How close are the children to their cousins?
We are a close-knit bunch. I stay very close to my siblings and my parents’ houses. The kids are emotionally welded to each other. They are as thick as thieves. Simone has three kids, Sussanne and Zayed have two each. Two of Simone’s children are older, but with seven of them, it is a full house. We are all taking a vacation together soon. Mostly it will be a beach location.
Are your teens demonstrative?
Very! Fiza will come and lie on top of me. My son often walks over when he gets up from his study table to give me a warm hug. I have always rained hugs and kisses on them and they have learnt to be demonstrative. It is very important.
Are you their friend or their parent?
I talk to them like their friend, but I am their parent. The line of distinction is very clear.
What is the rule on pocket money?
I give a monthly allowance of Rs 3,000 each to them. Teenagers must not have too much money, there is no need. Everything they need is taken care of. I tell them that I am their ATM (laughs).
One secret wish as a mom?
I wish my kids would read more books. There is too much screen time happening daily. I treasure books, their magic is unbeatable. That is one of the reasons I put together my own book, A Bejewelled Life.
Do you workout every day?
I do. If I am fit, I am happy. I take better decisions. Growing kids can drain you completely at times (laughs). You need energy to deal with a million questions everyday.
One rule at home?
We have one meal together as a family. Usually dinner. No phones on the table.
Advice to other moms?
You have to be the person you want your kids to be. Always lead by example.