Even as a child, Arwa Merchant knew that her destiny lay outside of the classroom. Every moment that she didn’t spend studying at her desk, saw her playing a sport; from badminton and running to swimming and throwball, Arwa made her mark with every game she could play. But it was skating which catapulted her as a sportsperson at the district level, during her school days. Today, as an adult her outdoor personality has propelled her being a horse-riding champ. She aims to train further and be a professional horse-rider, while simultaneously charting her career as an interior designer.
“My mother was a state-level swimming champ, so I guess I was born with a natural affinity towards sports and outdoor activities. But I developed my love for horses due to my grandfather, who would take me for horse rides to the park, as child,” says Arwa recounting her childhood days and early influences.
In fact, not only sports, her family has played an important role in shaping her career as well. “Since my father was dealing with real estate, I would often accompany him to construction sites. It was always exciting to watch empty large places transform into beautiful spaces that became people’s homes or offices. And that sowed the seed in me to become an interior designer,” she reveals gleefully.
Arwa further states that not just her family, but her husband and in-laws and the Dawoodi Bohra community at large has been a pillar of strength in her life. “I was blessed to be born to parents who constantly encouraged me, but the family I married into has been equally amazing. My husband and I are a classic case of opposites attract. Even though he’s not inclined towards sports, he’s started accompanying me for swims. Not only him, it has become routine for us to go out for family picnics to the dam reservoir and take a dip.”
Calling the community her extended family, she says the chord that connects them is their distinct attire, which is akin to their identity. In fact, the rida is her pride, she states vehemently. “I’ve seen people look at me with a different respect because of my attire. There was a time when I was driving to Lonavala for my cousin’s wedding. I ran out of petrol and was stranded in the middle of the highway when an old man stopped by and offered to help me by transferring a couple of litres to the car. I was really touched when he said that he honours our community for having a helpful nature and is glad to reciprocate it,” she says.
Recalling a prominent anecdote of her life, she reveals that when she went skydiving in the USA, people were quite surprised to see her in the rida. They recognised her as a Dawoodi Bohra woman because of her attire, but the fact that she successfully dived from 15,000 ft above sea level wearing the rida with the complete gear, earned her a renewed respect. Not only sky diving, Arwa has also indulged in deep-sea diving, at Thailand’s Phi Phi island, exploring the marine world 33-35 feet underwater.
Arwa emphasises that this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as her adventures go. Next on her target is renewing her training in horse riding and win more competitions in the field. “Our community is powerful, and we have a distinct identity. As women, we are strong, educated and independent and taking on the world, and we are achieving new milestones while staying rooted in culture,” she says, with immense pride.