RICHA DUBEY pays tribute to model-turned-designer SIMAR DUGAL who passed away on August 12 after a long battle with cancer
“She walked in beauty like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies”
Possibly no other poet could be paraphrased as aptly in memory of Simar Dugal as Lord Byron. That was the first thing that struck you about her. Her beauty. Classic, yet vibrant. Dignity personified, yet capable of bursting into helpless giggles. Depth, with a child’s curiosity and thirst for learning. And always, unfailingly kind and humble.
When I first met her, she was one of India’s top fashion models. To me, as a raw 21-year-old in the industry, she was different from the several other models I worked with in those days. Not only was she kind and friendly, she never threw a single tantrum, and was unfailingly professional. She always delivered, like the pro she was, and took a genuine interest in you. Although barely a handful of years older than me, she seemed to have a wealth of experience from years as yet unlived.
She not only indulged me — she was forgiving of my failures, and accommodating when, in my anxiety to do a good job, I pushed more than I should have. She had a way of gently, yet firmly drawing the line when she needed to.
Unusually so, she turned to modelling after her marriage and becoming a mother over the initial resistance from her conservative family. She blazed across ramps and print alike in those days. No firebrand, our Sim, she had instead, the quiet strength and maturity that outlasted fiery flames. She did what she wanted, without screaming it from the rooftops.
I recall an occasion when, during the Kargil war, she hosted a meeting to help raise funds for war widows. Despite the weight that several of the speakers carried, she drew me out to speak. Not because she had a particularly soft corner for me, but because she was made that way. Equality, equity: these were things that she understood at a fundamental level.
Simar was unfailingly there for her friends and family. Yet, for the world, she kept the stiff upper lip when it came to herself. Her personal struggles remained largely that: personal. When I last met her a couple of years ago, she didn’t say a word about her fight with cancer. Instead she focussed on me, how I was settling into a new country; and shared her excitement about the small traditional handicrafts business I was starting.
That love for the traditional and handcrafted was ingrained in her. Not one of the several models I worked with in those days understood the beauty, intricacy and heritage of the exquisite garments they modeled, like she did. It was no wonder that she turned to design after a highly successful modelling career. Long hours of learning about traditional embellishment techniques, and an inherent, finely-honed aesthetic sense finally came together in her eponymous label, specialising in ari and gota work.
Yes, she simmered, and she shimmered. And she will be missed. Deeply.
Richa Dubey, having spent over two decades in communication, now works in social impact
and runs Kajri, a small craft-based social enterprise in the US