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Since the landing of the Fatel Razack in 1845, many stories have been shared of ancestors arriving from India. The ship brought not only a new labour force to help this country’s economic development, but also a new people with a new culture.
Even now in the 21st century, people continue to come from all parts of the world to T&T's shores, creating new modern day arrival stories of perseverance and aspirations toward the fulfilment of dreams and future success in the Caribbean region.
One such modern day arrival story is that of Neha Dawar.
Dawar came to Trinidad as an infant with her parents in the 80’s and grew up in a traditional Indian household in South Trinidad surrounded by local culture and influences. For her, the all the stages of her life involved a unique fusion of cultures.
“I did not see much of a difference, Indian culture in T&T has definitely evolved. Being from an Indian household even in Trinidad, I always had strict but very supportive parents. As a child they always encouraged me to think of my future goals rather than boys or going to birthday parties.”
As a teenager, Dawar was deeply immersed in East Indian culture and did not always understand certain terms and concepts in regular Trinidadian parlance. It made for a slightly socially awkward time. “Sometimes I would be laughed at and made fun of because I would not try what everyone was trying. I wasn’t a social or talkative person back then, but I always saw Trinidad as a great and unique culture, very similar to India.”
Those similarities she identified were the existence of Mandirs locally and the focus on traditional and innovative Indian music. Despite the similarities, Dawar is still considered unique among her circle of friends. “I am a pure vegetarian by choice and sometimes it’s a bit difficult to get food at functions and I do not drink alcohol, but I can safely say I have a great time with my Trini friends without it.”
She also illustrated some facets of East Indian culture which local East Indians follow more strictly than in India.
“Today, some Trins may follow more traditions than Indians!” Dawar confirmed, “South Indian Bhramins would sometimes indulge and have their scotch whisky and tandoori chicken hiding from their wives, but here Indians stick diligently to vegetarianism to the point where they have invented tandoori paneer (Indian cheese) as an alternative!”
Dawar considers herself a creative person and guided by her parents, she was trained as a Kathak dancer by her Guru in India from a young age. Kathak is a traditional form of Indian dance, which is among the six major classical dances of India and is said to be one of the most dynamic theater arts in the world. The word Kathak is derived from katha, meaning the art of storytelling.
“Dance was always one of my favourite things, I always shared a musical interest and from there dance and movement came. To me one can never stop learning they would always be a student of their art.”
In spite of all the traditional influences of India, Dawar’s need for creative expression was also heavily influenced by the inspiration of the costume and mas making aspects of Trinidad Carnival and fashion design, which led to her desire to move away from the traditional to pursue a career in fashion.
“My interest in fashion began since I was a child in Trinidad. I would not dress like ordinary kids and I would always experiment with different daring looks and colours. I also started off making my own jewelery.” This passion for fashion guided Dawar into pursuing a degree in fashion at UTT Caribbean Academy of Fashion Design where she is currently completing her degree. She also has ambitions to design for a Carnival band in the future.
“I am planning to create a brand that is supportive of both my cultures, along with my background in eastern influences, especially for Indian and Islamic women. In this society women are judged every day. Therefore creating clothing to suit the modern day woman is one of my main goals. My label will reflect all aspects of life under a modest yet feminine approach to fashion.”
For Dawar, what some see as an odd combination between dance and fashion, actually go together quite smoothly for her. However, she admits that balancing her energies between the two passions of her life is no easy feat. “Dance creates discipline and this discipline is then applied to my studies in fashion. They never clash at all.”
Dawar has designed all of the outfits in which she has danced. She identifies the process of creating these costumes as the turning point for where her love for fashion design started.
“For me, fashion is just the same as a dance. It is a performance, a profession, and an art. It is a display of your talent, thus your representation of the package must be good otherwise it and you would be considered a messy pile.”
With the multiple influences and pressures on her life from growing up, Dawar sometimes feels torn between her desire to be a creative entrepreneur and what others may expect from her. However, her experience growing up in Trinidad has shown her several examples of how mixing different cultures works well within this society and this has influenced her confidence to fuse her creative energies together into a career.
To follow Neha Dawar’s creative journey, follow her on Instagram at @ndawar.