VENESTA SANKAR, 46, has added "chandler" to her resume.
A chandler makes or sells candles and sometimes other items of tallow or wax, such as soap.
The founder and owner of Sankar’s Candles found her passion when she found love again.
When she left an eight-year-long abusive relationship, Sankar swore off love and threw herself into her work.
A patient care assistant, she befriended an elderly patient, Ramdeo “Doh Fraid” Sankar, when she was sent to the Cumuto Health Centre.
One day Doh Fraid told Sankar he had a son at home for her.
“I said, ‘Me? Are you crazy? I don’t want any more man. I don’t want a husband. I am quite comfortable with my children,’” she said in an interview at Newsday’s Pembroke Street, Port of Spain, office.
Sankar, from Valencia, was angry that Doh Fraid or anyone would even try to pair her with someone. She would often tell her co-workers she did not want another man and was content to spend the rest of her life looking after herself and her three children.
The family’s source of joy was television and when their TV stopped showing, Sankar wondered how it could be repaired. She did not have the money for a new one, as her previous relationship had left her in debt.
She remembered seeing a sign for a TV repair shop in Cumuto, east Trinidad. When she went there, she saw Doh Fraid, who told her the TV repairman was his son, Atama.
“He told me Atama would repair the television quickly for me, as this was my next husband,” she said.
Doh Fraid fell seriously ill and his family was unable to get him to go to a health facility. He told them the only person who could get him to go would be Sankar. She and a doctor from the health centre paid a home visit.
Doh Fraid had to be admitted to the Sangre Grande hospital and Atama was called to take him. He had emergency surgery and when he came to, he asked to see Sankar.
“His face lit up when he saw me, and his wife said, 'I don’t know what you’ve done to my husband. Your personality is just out of here,’” she said.
During a visit one day Doh Fraid said to her and Atama, "I just want both of you to be happy."
He then held her and Atama’s hands, put them together and said. "Allyuh make me happy."
Sankar replied, “When you come out we will talk about all of that."
He died that night at 11 pm.
Soon, Sankar and Atama developed a friendship. Although she told him she did not want to become involved, their friendship bloomed into a relationship.
After two years, in 2016, the couple was married. With Atama’s love, Sankar blossomed, as she found “with him it is different, I can breathe.”
Atama also recognised the talents of Sankar and her children and encouraged her to follow her dreams.
She began taking courses offered by the community education (skills training) programme of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts. She did PVC furniture construction, jewellery making and soap and candle making.
She really wanted to do the soapmaking course, as she has a lot of allergies and likes natural ingredients. She was upset, however, that the course in soapmaking was paired with candle making.
“God probably knew I was being lined up for something I did not know about. I went to the class and I got upset every time the teacher gave us something to do on candles. I felt at the time: 'I could buy candles in the grocery for $10 a pack.'”
But the instructor told Sankar she had to do the work in candlemaking even though she was more interested in soap.
“I even stood in the class and said, 'I am not interested in candles. I am interested in soaps.' "But, being an obedient person, I participated.”
Sankar’s first candle was “well done, smooth and looked good.”
Even though she was less than enthusiastic, Sankar learned to make seashell, coffee bean and waterfall and picture candles. Each time she created one she posted about it on Facebook.
In 2017, a friend suggested she take her work to Excellent Stores, which has branches throughout TT, as “they have a market for that kind of stuff.” She got the contact information for the department store, was interviewed and the store said it was interested. With her creativity flourishing, Sankar began making unconventionally shaped candles. She made a Carib beer candle, Shandy Carib and Malta. She even created a candle in the national colours, which is stocked and sold at Excellent Stores.
Through her company, she now also sells citronella, lavender and peppermint-scented candles in locations throughout TT, including the popular Pennywise Cosmetics. The candles are still sold at Rishi’s Mini Mart (her brother-in-law's business), Eastern Main Road, Cumuto, where it was first sold.
At Sankar’s Candles you can also find candles in the form of cupcakes, the Bible and any kind of drinks people can think of.
She makes her basic candles (those popular on the market like citronella, lavender and peppermint) by using two types of wax.
“Citronella, peppermint or lavender can be made in any type of wax. So we use either paraffin or gel or soy wax. Our wax is basically placed into a double boiler, (and) is melted – not boiled – to 120 degrees Fahrenheit temperature.”
The wax is then cooled to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The fragrance or essential oil is added and the candle is then poured at 75 degrees Fahrenheit and allowed to take shape.
Sankar puts her own touch to her candles, as soon as her fragrance is added: the jar is immediately closed so that the fragrance is trapped inside. This gives the customer all the fragrance they’ve paid for.
Pillar candles (candles which can stand all alone in a bowl or a platform without melting into a puddle) must also be poured at a distinct temperature, she said.
Candle dye in TT does not come in particular shades like grey or different shades of green. Sankar mixes different shades together to create these shades and other uniquely coloured candles.
The pillar candles are created using a stainless-steel mould. “You can use anything as a mould to create a candle. It all depends on what shapes you are looking at, the sizes you are looking at.”
Sankar’s strong point is her decorative candles. She creates cupcake candles by using cupcake baking tins, and pours her wax in to get the shape. This is then cooled and she uses soy wax on top to give the effect of frosting. She also adds decorations: she uses edible sprinkles, as they are "quite safe.”
Like many famous brands, Sankar has trade secrets she wished not to divulge.
“I can barely make soap now because the candle has basically taken over my life,” she said.
Sankar’s family-run business was registered last year. She told her story not to gain publicity for her candles but to let women in abusive situations know that there is hope after abuse.