Tell us about yourself
I head the UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan and I interpret it as UN India Connect. The UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan (UNIC) was the first UN Office to have opened in India in January 1947. The Centre represents the UN Secretariat and as its Director, I am the spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General.
My time is spent on catalyzing UN values of peace, development and human rights, meeting new groups of youth activists; spreading the UN word in rural areas; bringing the UN alive through new means of communications and especially through social media; promoting the We Care film festival to bring effective change in public attitude towards persons with disability; pushing the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility in Indian Corporations and holding aloft brand UN.
I came here in 2011 from the Department of Communication and Public Information of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva. I left India almost four decades ago and coming back was full of nostalgia and hope. I have worked in the UN system for nearly 4 decades, travelling all over the world. I feel like a global citizen!
Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote
At this point in time I am promoting my work with paintbrushes and acrylic paint, work that was done during the very few weekends I have had over the past years. Working in the UN brings you very close to global issues so in my paintings I see nature as AWEsome, Air, Water, Earth, at a time when the environment is pleading for humanity to save it. In the 70th anniversary year of the UN, UNIC’s [email protected] project has done a great deal to remind the world of the important milestone we are marking.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
Well, if you want to speak of painting, it has been finding the time to focus on it in my very busy work schedule. I always wanted to paint. I loved dabbing in colours during school in India. In my late teens I briefly got interested in Batik. Many years went by later in Geneva, but lack of time, a busy work schedule and then marriage and children kept me from this hobby.
Then I was posted to Delhi. I kept saying that I wanted to take up painting, but I wanted to experiment in a new medium for me, acrylic. I found a mentor in artist and teacher Seema Pandey, to advise me, to help me experiment, to give me that confidence I needed with this new exciting medium and hobby.
So, I painted weekends mostly when I was not at official events or travelling. I pulled out many photographs of our holidays around the world and decided to be inspired by them, and many other totally anonymous ones.
Also, from a career point of view the challenge has been reaching out to all of India and Bhutan with relatively no resources but my fabulous small UNIC team has made success possible.
What has been your greatest achievement personally?
My paintings have been my personal success and each one is a labour of love. I can remember every brush stroke and what I felt as I put paint to canvas. But I count my professional success also as my personal success as many of the projects we undertook at UNIC were very close to my heart and I had really wanted to make them happen. India is an artist’s paradise. At every corner there are wonderful sights that one wants to capture. I do that on camera and then paint from those moments. But it is an equally exciting stage for us to work on and I have enjoyed every moment of the roles we have played. Perhaps we changed the life of at least one person…and that makes it all worth it. I keep telling people to try it out. It is a great formula in this world full of conflict. It promotes peace.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
I love what I am doing now. So I will endeavor to create the circumstances where I can continue to touch people’s lives so my work remains meaningful.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
As many would answer, my mother. She is a professional, a medical doctor with the World Health Organization, and she inspired me to keep learning at all stages and become a professional. Later on I was inspired by the love and confidence that my own daughter showed towards me. Having a very supportive husband can help fuel that inspiration and I have been extremely lucky in that.
What does the future hold for you?
Well. I was never one to show my hand to astrologers or to listen to soothsayers on what the future holds for me. One part of the future is what one makes it, what one has worked hard for, and the other is the external unknown influences with which one has to deal. I see a lot of professional work still, but I am very inspired to continue to paint, to capture moments of the present to keep for the future.
About Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman
Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman, Director, UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan, has worked with the UN system for almost forty years, and has recently discovered painting as a medium of expression for her view of the world. She has been feted with prestigious awards in India. She received the Gandhi Seva Medal from the Gandhi Global Family, the Ambassador for Peace Award of the Universal Peace Federation, the Spirit of Shanti Award by Brahma Kumaris for outstanding service and commitment to humanity, the Global Women Achievers Award by the Indo-Global Business Council (IGBC) for her contribution to the field of social work, among others.
Twitter: @KiranMehraK, @UNICDelhi
This article is accredited to Ashish Bhardwaj.