I may feature dark-complexioned women to get rid of the notion fair-complexioned women are prettier: Tripathi

Former CNN anchor is bringing out a calendar ‘Saris to Suits’.

By Deepak Chitnis

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Patti Tripathi during her time at CNN Headline News

WASHINGTON, DC: Patti Tripathi is a former CNN anchor who is now the founder and president of TriPath Media, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm that specializes in marketing, public relations, and event planning.

This year, Tripathi will be launching the inaugural edition of the Saris to Suit calendar. Saris to Suits is an initiative dedicated to spreading female empowerment; to provide real-life role models for women around the world. She will donate the proceeds to organizations working for such causes.

The calendar will feature a bevy of highly successful women based in the US, working in various fields, including business and entertainment. The full lineup will be announced shortly, followed by the launch of the calendar in October.

In an exclusive interview with The American Bazaar, Tripathi discusses her life and career, what brought her to Saris to Suits, and what she hopes its long-term impacts are.

Excerpts from the interview:

What was the inspiration behind Saris to Suits?

There are many reasons; I wanted to make a difference to save some lives. Most recently it was because I was forced to cancel an important speaking engagement in India at the end of last September because of my father’s concerns about traveling alone. Additionally, I dealt with verbally and emotionally abusive situations because of pressures to have an “arranged” marriage.

Last year, two people from high school contacted me – a police officer and an academic. They sought my advice on how to deal with two college students who were going through tough times over arranged marriage/boyfriend situations. I found myself re-reading old chapters and opening up old wounds. I felt a deep sense of calling to open a new chapter: To speak up to save lives. Quoting Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.

Many incidents of domestic violence in the Indian and Indian American community remain closeted. In an era of shrinking public and private funds, yours is a commendable venture. Apart from Saris to Suits, are you going to have other fundraising initiatives to help organizations that deal with abuse of women? 

I hope that events are held nationwide with local groups/speakers selling the calendars and keeping some of the profits. I hope the role models featured in “Saris to Suits” calendar are invited to attend, speak about topics concerning women. I hope I am invited to tell my story. Turning a blind eye allows the abuser to continue. But the cultural stigma keeps women from seeking help. Unfortunately in the immigrant community women often don’t seek help because of immigration status, language barriers, and/or inability to maneuver through the justice system. That’s why organizations like Georgia-based Raksha are needed.

TriPath Media is looking for “Sponsor of the Month” to go with Saris To Suits “Role Model of the Month,” to offset photography, design, printing, and distribution costs. Tervis and Essen Nutrition have become sponsors. Calendar will be ready for online purchase in October. For more information, please contact Info@TriPathMedia.com.

The annual Kingfisher calendar, inspired by the Pirelli calendar, which features models in swimsuits, and shot by photographer Atul Kasbekar, is hugely popular in India, and a commercial success. Who is going to photograph the women featured in Saris to Suits?  

Several known photographers around the country: Kah Poon in New York; John Joseph Revisky in Tampa, Florida; Drew Altizer in San Francisco

The Kingfisher calendar has its many critics. Are you in favor of featuring women in bikinis on a calendar?

I was not aware of the calendar. There’s more to a woman than her outer beauty. I wanted to feature “role models” rather than models. That is not to say these women aren’t gorgeous. They are the complete package. Looks are inherited — education, drive and accomplishments are earned.

How did you go about choosing the women who would be featured on Saris to Suits? What was the criteria, and why a calendar, as opposed to something else?

I called women such as the California attorney general, the young Atlanta Harvard grad CFO; and the agent representing Anoushka Shankar; Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (who is not Indian, but a practicing Hindu) and West Point for accepting its first Indo-American cadet who wants to be a doctor. There were challenges and some required agent and/or network approval process. Some came recommended by Raksha’s Executive Director and other folks. Some I already knew having been in TV news business. Others were recommended because they are notable MD’s, activists, or businesswomen. We are still trying to find two additional role models: It would be nice to have a scientist, a philanthropist, a CEO, an athlete and/or musician. They represent the entire spectrum of careers and ethnic background as role models for women and young girls. When I was young I didn’t have any role models, except for my Mother.

The concept came to me because I was on the original Women of Notre Dame calendar chosen by a committee of peers and a nun, I believe. Their criteria was the same: good grades, service, and extracurricular activities. Although it did not include scantily clad women (being a Pre-med major I was in the library holding a book) the calendar had its share of controversy on a Catholic campus. The proceeds from the calendar went to help battered women.

Who are the 12 women you have chosen? 

That is a surprise! They are smart and beautiful.

There are definitely more than 12 Indian American accomplished women who are worthy of being featured on a calendar. Is Saris to Suits going to be a calendar that comes out year after year with different women being featured? 

I hope so. Maybe next year I may feature dark-complexioned women to get rid of the notion fair-complexioned women are prettier.

Are you going to feature women from India and Indian origin women from other countries as well, or is it only from the US? 

They are Nepalese American, Bangladeshi American, Pakistani American; and even one from Trinidad. They are Gujarati, Punjabi (Sikh), Maharashtrian, Kashmiri, and South Indian. None from UP where I was born.

There’s a perception throughout the world, because of the Delhi bus gang-rape of a young woman, the recent Mumbai gang-rape of a photojournalist, and incidents like the recent CNN story of a University of Chicago student who was harassed on her Study Abroad trip, that India is an unsafe country for women. You grew up in India. In your travels there now, what is your perception of the way women are treated in public?

I was born in India and my family emigrated when I was around ten. I was looking forward to my trip to India later this month which I canceled. When I traveled, I recall that someone kissed me on my face while I was walking with my relatives on a crowded street and ran away. There were many stares and men following me through New Delhi shops.  You have to ask why India topped the ten most dangerous countries for a woman to travel alone. So there’s some truth to what is being written and I am glad it is being discussed and debated rather than being closeted. What is happening is horrifying – one has to ask why there’s so much violence and sexual perversion. India is truly a country of contradictions.  Hindus worship Laxshmi, Saraswati, and other deities. My opinion is that it has always existed except now social media is bringing it out into the open.

You quit a career as an anchor at CNN to start your own public relations company. What made you do that? 

I stopped doing the news full-time when my mother passed away at age 56. She was my biggest cheerleader, a fantastic human being and my role model. Life threw some curve balls and took me out of the game I loved so much. I was the only female in the inaugural TiE Smith Entrepreneur Mentorship Fellows program at the University of Maryland business school, thus my media strategy company TriPath Media. In addition to crisis prevention and media training, I put the spotlight on others in the media to raise greater awareness of their invention, companies, CEO, services in the marketplace.

Is there enough diversity in America’s television newsrooms? Are more Indian Americans getting into broadcast journalism? 

The makeup of the newsroom has changed vastly. I had no role models. I wish I were entering the business now versus twenty years ago when it took persistence, persistence and persistence to get a foot in the door. One news director advised me to apply “where the Indians are live” to meet demographics. Where? Back in India! I have had to deal with ignorance throughout my career: Being persuaded to anglicize my name from “Pratibha” to “Patti,” cutting my hair so people couldn’t guess my ethnicity. It’s an entirely different business now. I have not ruled out returning to the small screen; possibly doing a “Saris To Suits” series exploring deeper into what is happening around the world, not just India. Would you believe Saudi Arabia just now made it a crime to hit women and children? Physical abuse was considered a private, family matter. I am in the process of writing a book with the proceeds going to help abused women.

What was your experience like at CNN?

It was my American dream come true. I was very young and felt like a kid in a candy store. Every day I was in awe, rubbing elbows with the amazing journalists and newsmakers I met and the amazing stories that were covered from around the world.

America has got a new television network, Al Jazeera America, the only new one after Fox News was launched in 1996. Do you think Al Jazeera will be able to compete with CNN and Fox?

Many of my former colleagues, such as Ali Velshi, have transitioned to Al Jazeera America.  I have not had a chance to talk to them. Al Jazeera’s ratings weren’t great but it is too soon to tell. I remember when Fox started its 24-hourchannel and now it has severely cut into CNN’s audience. Content will always be needed; the way it is delivered will be different.

[Slider photo credit: Lunardi]

[This story was updated on 9/3/13.]

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Patti Tripathi claims to empower women. However, she actually does the opposite. Sari’s to Suits is nothing more than an exploitation of race and gender as a means of constructing a falsified sob story. It is a very unfortunate publication that deserves very limited attention and support. In actuality , Tripathi, has carried herself as nothing more than a spoiled and abusive gold-digger in perpetual search for male victims to eventually slander.

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