A young lawyer with a passion for the Indian Culture The Kiran Mattai’s story

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Extraordinary might very well be the word to aptly describe Kiran Aarti Mattai. The 26-year-old, of East Indian descent, is currently a practising attorney-at-law, whose passion for the legal profession cannot be understated.
She was easily labeled an “exceptional” individual when she was admitted to the Bar just over three years ago. This auspicious recognition was not only linked to her outstanding academic performances, but also the fact that she was merely 22 years old at the time, making her arguably the youngest lawyer in Guyana.
“To be honest I didn’t really see what the big deal was but I suppose it was the idea that I was able to stay focused during that time,” reflected Mattai during an interview.
“I suppose it was more of what it represented rather than just the title, but at that time I guess it was a big accomplishment; I was just happy that I made it through law school,” she confided.
But even before undertaking the law programme at the University of Guyana, which she completed with distinctions, and continuing at Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad, Mattai was already showcasing just how “exceptional” she was. This was particularly evident in 2004 when she was named the best performing Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) candidate. A Queen’s College student at the time, she secured 10 Grade One passes, of which six were distinctions.
Upon completing law school, her main focus was to find a specialist legal area to fit into. Moreover, the second of three siblings, all of whom have also been recognized nationally for outstanding academic performances, Mattai decided to join the workforce at the Guyana Energy Agency.
This, of course, made her stand out even more as a young ambitious lawyer. “I started dealing more with renewable energy and the downstream aspect of energy. Being involved in the energy sector, I then realized just how universal that industry actually is…it is not just something within Guyana or within the Caribbean,” explained Mattai.
Venturing in this arena was a well thought out plan, as according to her, she had already taken into consideration the fact that Guyana had plans to explore for oil and gas.
It was for this precise reason that she strategically decided to pursue her Masters in Oil and Gas Law. She is set to graduate shortly from university in Scotland. “I am working towards a distinction right now, but we’ll see how that goes,” said an excited Mattai as she crossed her index and middle fingers on both hands.
But achieving academic success has not been the only focus of her life. She has been able to give her time to teach literacy to young children, as according to her, “education is very important and I think it starts at a very young age.”
The petite and very elegant Mattai has done quite a bit of modeling as well, but has never ventured into the pageantry arena which she explained by emphasizing, “I believe pageantry has an important place but I guess my priorities were different.”
Embracing the Indian Culture
Through it all, she has been able to fully embrace her Culture, particularly through dance.
Although her existence is merely four years shy of three decades, her knowledge and passion for the Indian Culture far surpasses her age and even that of many people much older than her. Born and raised in a well-to-do family, Mattai could have easily delved into just about any extracurricular pursuit. Money would not have been an object, therefore, her opportunities could have been near limitless.
But according to this visibly stunning 26-year-old, as she pursued her many academic successes, she simultaneously gravitated to Indian dancing, a feat she embraced in her quest to exhibit unadulterated pride for her Indian culture. Although it wasn’t thrust upon her, she intimated that her upbringing had immense influence on her dancing enthusiasm.
She explained that the family tradition that she was born into stemmed from a number of practices that essentially were the ‘products of succession’.
“So you have your ancestral immigrants and those practices that were really brought down from there (India) that you practice in everyday life – whether rituals, beliefs, anecdotes; they really stem from that sense of pride (of) where you come from and what you want to be able to promote in your life.”
Embracing these very practices, she noted, helped to shape her personally and easily propelled her to nurture her dancing talent.
As a young girl, her parents, Harry and Bharati, had no problem allowing her to be trained in Kathak – a form of intricate Indian classical dance. “I started dancing about 15 years ago which sounds like a really long time now,” said the young Mattai amidst a brief chuckle. She explained that the word ‘Katha’ is a Sanskrit word that translates to mean story and ideally so since it is exactly that a Kathak dancer is able to do.
She expressed confidence that through this “art form” she is able to convey unspoken stories of her culture. “It is really just a sense of connection you feel,” said Mattai of her dancing ability.
Although she embraces with conviction, her Indian Culture which undoubtedly is laced with a Guyanese flair, she admitted that it wasn’t always very intriguing.
While her parents are true Guyanese with a passion to develop their homeland, at one point they had migrated to Canada. It was there that she was born before returning nine years later with her parents and siblings. Her parents were keen on giving a great deal of attention to the family business – the N and S Mattai Supermarket situated at Water Street, Georgetown.
The family business was, and still is, one that fully subscribes to the Indian Culture as it offers an abundance of Indian spices, especially masala, that have effectively served to unmask the Indian undertone.
Moreover, the Guyanese/Indian culture here was certainly one to behold with awe. “When we moved I thought the culture here, in terms of what we adapted the Indian Culture to be in Guyana, was so dominant…it wasn’t hidden away here or practiced by one or two people; it was very celebrated and I think the openness of that made it something I really wanted to be a part of,” recounted Mattai.
As a result, the transition from Canada to Guyana was definitely an exciting one, she noted, as she reflected on simple things, such as turning on the television and being able to see the different Bollywood shows. Even being able to attend Mandir regularly was quite an enthralling experience for her.
“It all became something that was really part of you and really helped to shape your identity and I think that is where it all started,” said Mattai as she recalled how she ventured into the dancing arena.
She has danced with other talented dancers from the Indian Cultural Centre, been a part of the Apsara Group, and has even done some solo stage shows as part of her effort to amplify a facet of her Culture that she embraces without reservation.
Mattai recalled that during her studies in Scotland last year she was, even there, able to showcase her culture. The University at which she studied is one that seeks to promote the different cultures of the mostly non-resident students and according to her, “I volunteered to do an Indian dance.”
“I actually did a mix…I did a medley of songs – a Classical into a Bollywood into a Soca (Indian Gyal – the Wuk up de Larkie) and it was very well received. They really enjoyed it. Everybody then understood where Guyana was because you really don’t hear much about us all the way on that side of the world,” added an elated Mattai.
She is therefore satisfied that she was then, and still is, able to represent , mainly through dance, a culture that she is very proud of being associated with.
But reaching to the stage of pride regarding one’s culture is not always readily attained as according to her, “it has to come from within. That’s probably the first thing but also not being ashamed of it. I think that the more you understand what culture actually means to you and maybe even at a national level, that’s where you will be able to find pride in it. Once you understand what your spirituality should essentially be you will really understand what you would want your culture to be,” she affirmed.

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