It was her school's graduation (St Joseph's Convent, San Fernando). Dhisha Moorjani was 18 years old and she was a stand out amongst her school mates in her beautiful burgundy sari.
No one else was wearing a sari and although Moorjani was different to the rest of the girls she didn't feel like an outcast anymore. She didn't feel like she didn't belong as she did in earlier years while growing up the traditional Indian way in cosmopolitan T&T.
The frown which she wore on days when she had to wear saris and shalwars while the other kids her age wore shorts and tank tops had faded. Her displeasure courtesy the moments when she had to speak Sindhi (the native tongue of her mother and father's province of Sindh in India) and Hindi when she preferred her native Trini dialect (after all she was born in Trinidad) had disappeared.
It was only at her graduation ball that she truly began to embrace, admire and accept her native Indian culture. Today, many years later, the woman has manifested her love for both Indian and Trinbagonian cultures through the brainchild the House of Jaipur, an establishment featuring the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures.
Moorjani's story is as exotic as her collections in her showroom at House of Jaipur's colourful abode on O'Connor Street, Woodbrook.
"I was born in Trinidad in the 60s, a year after my parents arrived from India to live in Trinidad. My parents were born in Hyderbad Sindh which is in Pakistan. This was before the 1947 Partition which separated India from Pakistan. They were Hindus in a predominantly Muslim territory and had to flee to a new "Hindu" India. As kids, my father's family settled in Jaipur, India, and my mother's family settled in Mumbai. My father found a job here in Trinidad in the 60s and returned to India as a marriage was arranged for him as was customary in those days. When he returned five days later he and my mother were married after which they moved to Trinidad and had two children. I am the oldest with my sister being three years younger." Growing up in San Fernando as her father's business was in the south, Moorjani's mother spoke no English and the English she and her sister learned was either at school or through the people who worked with her parents. "My mother was bringing us up in a country which was very foreign to her culturally and as a result my sister and I had a very hard time trying to fit in. We spoke no English at home, only 'Sindhi'. My sister and I attended St Joseph's Convent in San Fernando and I remember my mother coming into PTA meetings in a sari and the nuns in those days not being amused at the fact that her stomach could be seen through the sari. It was hard for my sister and I to try and adapt to such a conservative Indian household growing up in such a cosmopolitan island like Trinidad. I hated being 'different'; it was only much later on that I realised that I was fortunate to have been given this opportunity and embraced the Indian culture to a large extent," the self-proclaimed Trini-to-the bone claimed.
Established in 2003, House of Jaipur became Moorjani's olive branch between her contrasting cultures. One of the few showrooms in the Caribbean that celebrates the genius of the Indian artisan, it was her way of embracing the influence of the eastern tradition on the lifestyles of our western counterparts.
"I would travel to Jaipur to meet my father's relatives and was amazed at the fabulous handicrafts they had to offer and would then travel to Mumbai to meet my mother's relatives and would be fascinated at the fashion capital of India as it is usually known. It eventually all came together and when my father died in early 2003, I opened House of Jaipur and decided to name it after his home town," Moojani remembered.
As you walk into the well-manicured porch and the neat cottage-like setting at House of Jaipur, you are inspired by an aura of peace interspersed with fashion and traditional fervour. Music composed by Richard Clayderman and Rahul Sharma infuses your mind and the artistic display of some of India's most exquisite pieces makes you feel like you are in a temple in Mumbai. A majestic silver throne with elephants at the corners, a reproduction of a King's throne from one of the Palaces in Jaipur, gives an ambience of ancient Hindu history.
"The throne is made out of wood with metal carved and beaten on it, it is used now for decorative purposes or even rented for weddings for the couple to sit on during the wedding ceremony. The elephants carved on the handles represent the symbol of good luck and the royal nature of the piece. In ancient times, royalty in India would use elephants as their mode of transport and even now elephants in India are used for wedding processions," explained Moorjani. An urli (traditional Indian cooking vessel) at the doorway makes you feel at home with its shallow and wide bowl made of solid brass, filled with water and rose petals, candles or deyas floating in it. Then a painting of a young dulahin, her waist twisted to some musical stimulus brings you back to T&T at a chutney extravaganza. Certainly, fusion at its best, the clothing is out of this world. The fabrics are lively, purely Caribbean but yet with hints of East Indian culture. Necklines not too deep but sensible and yet sensual, saris for every event, jewelry for every taste and likeness, House of Jaipur is indeed an experience and not just a home and fashion boutique.
"Our concept promotes Indian lifestyle and we focus not only on Indian fashion and fashion accessories but also on Indian fabrics and textiles, Indian home décor and handicrafts and we also have an Indian Tea Room where customers can enjoy Indian snacks served with a large selection of teas," Moorjani informed. Speaking of tea, the Carnival aficionado (she plays mas every year in T&T) gave some insights into a hot seller on her tea menu- "We have the Karma Sutra tea and it is one of our best and…most appealing!" Karma Sutra tea? "It is known to bring out certain pleasurable reactions but it's a 'try and see for yourself experience', our clients keep coming back for more but they don't divulge the tea's effects," she laughed.
Moorjani is a true testimony of a new sense of pride as for the interview she was adourned in one of her own creations, a silk blouse with Indian inspired embroidery designs and earrings to match. "European designers have now embraced Indian designs and fabrics and are skillfully creating new fusions of east meets west. House of Jaipur represents various designers in India who create for our retail and custom made line and we also represents the Trinidadian looking for a bit of Indian glitz and bling but who may not want to go very traditional," declared Moorjani.
To complete her interview and the journey through her childhood and new passion for her diverse cultural mix, Moorjani had one more detail to add to her cosmopolitan personality, "I am actually married to a German so I guess every aspect of my life represents intermingling of cultures. Who knows where this element might take me — a new fashion line spiced by German, Trini and Indian influence?" she added with a beautiful smile.