Sometime ago I met a young woman and her husband at the Fernie Museum, we immediately began a conversation that led to learning she was an artist.
I didn’t meet her again until her husband Harsh Ramadass, ran for a seat on the City of Fernie council and surprised everyone by topping the polls.
Pruthvi or Pru as she is known to friends was born in the city of Bengaluru, also known as Bangalore. It’s the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state and the center of India’s high-tech industry regarded as the Silicon Valley of India due to being the nation’s leading software exporter and major semiconductor hub.
Pru says that both she and Harsh, a computer engineer, were born in Bangalore in 1981.
Pru’s family was well off as her father owned a construction business and her mother was a homemaker. Her father was the youngest of seven children and her mother had four siblings so in the family there are lots of cousins, she says.
Pru is the youngest of two daughters. The family enjoyed a good life as they grew up on an acreage and although in her parents’ generation women working was not appreciated her mother oversaw the farm and the rice and millet paddies. “As kids it was easy for us, we went to good schools, learned both the provincial language and Hindi the national language. Most of our subjects were in English so we can read and write in three languages”.
We discussed that knowing more than one language expands the mind to learning and imaginative thought, especially learning the distinction of each language and how meanings vary with words expressed in another language.
Pru says, “I love Bangalore, our parents were progressive, they said it would be okay for me to attend Art School, which ordinarily would be frowned upon.” Adding that for males studying engineering or medicine was encouraged and most choose engineering. Harsh and Pru were both attending the same university when they met, he taking studies in engineering and she in art. Asked how they connected, she replied that, “A mutual friend who was my neighbor’s cousin was married to Harsh’s second cousin and introduced us”.
Harsh was employed in Chicago, Illinois for the Caterpillar company owned by an Indian company and returned home for six months for extra studies. The couple married on July 4, 2007, and returned to Chicago. “I loved Chicago”, she says, “it had a vibrant art scene, and I was teaching art.” She laughs and says that for the “nearly two years that we lived there we had fireworks on our anniversary.”
They moved again when Harsh decided to get his MBA accreditation in higher level engineering qualification at UBC. Other engineers had spoken about Canadian schools being excellent so in 2009 they moved to Vancouver. When his studies were completed Harsh became employed by Teck in Vancouver and after a time was given the opportunity to move to the Elk Valley as there was greater potential advancement here. Before the move Teck had Pru come to this area to get her opinion on what she thought of their new home. She said as soon as she saw Fernie she loved it.
During their time in Vancouver, she had ignored her art efforts but in Fernie she found it quiet but excellent for being involved in various things including sports, something she is good at, also she loves reading everything so the Library became important not only for books but for finding it a lifeline before she made friends. In 2018 she became employed at the library and is especially impressed by the volunteerism she sees displayed there and all around Fernie. Where she came from, she said only the rich have the privilege to volunteer, others must work to make a living but here volunteers play an important part in the community.
Once settled in Fernie Pru got back to her art, weaving into her artistic pieces profound topics particularly about the perceived notion of women by society. Pru said, “people lift you up, women run this town, it’s remarkable what the women in Fernie can do, most of my paintings show this is where society wants us to be from the perspective as a woman from a wealthy family whose culture prefers women not to work and placing religious focus more on men than on women.”
Pru shows me an example of her painting, she says it signifies how our body is bound to our role, a not doing place in society, “Fernie is refreshing, it’s a place of freedom, I feel like I could make a life for me here with no expectations, and no one to tell me what to do. Change isn’t good or bad, its what we make of it. I work with all kinds of mediums. The pictures I sent you are made with acrylic paints, colour pencils and embroidery, acrylic and ink, wood burning. Each one is a different material. I mostly paint with water colours or acrylic paints and a lot of my paintings can be found in the Himalayan spice bistro in Fernie. I spend about 4 to 5 hours, painting or sometimes sketching in a week. Other times I’m busy being a mom or reading or working at the library. I work as a library assistant; I’ve been there since 2018. I also enjoy cooking and spend a lot of my time doing it.”
Pru is presently occupied on a digital project of women in a mixed media collage hoping to display it at the Arts Station around Women’s Day in the future.
During covid she produced an image of Varaha, the wild boar, third of the ten incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu. When a demon named Hiranyaksha dragged the earth to the bottom of the sea, Vishnu took the form of a boar in order to rescue it and fought for a thousand years. Other pieces emphasize the female, “Our Body”, bound to their roles, sometimes not performing their place in society. Her art is colorful, intriguing, and mysterious. Studying it one can see many meanings in the different figures, repression, mental anguish, sadness, feeling invisible, all is noticeable to the eye. They are thought-provoking and a bit disturbing as is life.
Asked how she feels about her husband serving on council, she responds, that “Fernie is very important to us, and we both want to contribute as much as we can, while still making good time to spend with each other” and their beautiful daughter Anya who was born in Canada.
Its obvious this petite woman with the gorgeous smile has fallen in love with our community. Although as we discussed one never forgets the place of birth as that forever holds great love in our soul, Canada literally grasps hold of heart and mind and rarely lets go. I’m often told by longtime residents that Fernie has changed and so they choose to leave. I respond by saying yes Fernie has changed, it changed in the decades from the early years of the first immigrants and it will continue to change because change is the only constant in life.
There is great value in each person that chooses to call Fernie home. Harsh and Pru are wonderful examples of this, they are proof of what change can bring to any community with the arrival of new residents. Thank you for choosing Fernie, Harsh, Pru and Anya. Your talents and knowledge contribute to Fernie being the fantastic place it is.
By Mary Giuliano
Mary arrived in Fernie in May of 1953 and has lived here ever since, by choice, because she loves the Elk Valley and everything it stands for. Read more from Mary here.