Photo from marindia.wordpress.com
A club in one of Delhi’s residential neighbourhood markets offers free drinks to foreigners every Thursday after dark. ‘Expat night’, as this practice is known, was pretty popular by the looks of it when I crashed it a couple weeks ago with my cousin. We shall call her S, and my brother Q.
Q wanted to meet Spanish girls. S and I hoped for eye candy but were not feeling fussy about its country of origin.
We drew up to the club and I went in first. I got my free drinks bracelet, no questions asked. It was not until I was at the bar and halfway through a rum and coke that I realized I was alone. Q and S were nowhere to be seen. Familial loyalty lost out to thirst and I stayed where I was. They appeared within a few minutes.
My brother wore his wristband for free beverages, but S had not been given one. She’d gone back to try her luck at the door. The bouncer refused on the grounds that she wasn’t an expat.
Q and I are half-Indian, half-European-Canadian. We usually get taken for foreigners in India, despite having grown up here.
S, on the other hand, did not strike the doorkeepers as anything but Indian.
“I could’ve grown up in New York. How do you know I’m not an expat?” she demanded.
“Face value,” replied the bouncer.
She eventually came in without a wristband. I offered to go back and fight ‘them’ with her, but she didn’t want our night ruined.
After hours spent on the crowded dance floor between walls suggestively decorated with reliefs of figures in kama sutra poses, bodies started to clear out.
As we exited I went up to the nearest man in black and suggested that next time the bouncers ID’d anyone on expat night, they ID everyone. I was pleased with my own eloquence. He told me they’d get back to me.
Eventually the manager appeared and I gave him my speech all over again, with less gusto.
“My name is Indian. I grew up here. How do you know I’m not Indian?” I asked. (Technically, I’ve always been a Canadian citizen, but this was besides the point.) He didn’t have a direct answer.
“See, ma’am. Those boys over there,” he said slowly, pointing at two blonds, “…they are obviously foreign. When I see her [indicating S], I don’t know. So I ask her for identification.”
S intervened at this point and gave him a piece of her mind. But Q was getting antsy and had lost all interest in waging righteous war upon the bouncers of Delhi. We quit our losing battle.
A French blogger in India wrote about the very same club. Check out ‘Race to Nightclubs in Delhi‘.
Apparently they usually keep Indian people on the first two floors of the club, separate from the largely white crowd that gets to go up to the bar on the roof!
I noticed some segregation that night, but my cousin wasn’t stopped when she went up to the roof with us. Maybe they’ve had to make the separation more of an unspoken rule than an explicit one. ‘No wristband, buy your drinks downstairs’ would do the trick.
I’ve had the converse of my cousin’s experience a few years ago, while trying to get into Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. The woman at the ticket counter told me I would have to pay extra because I wasn’t Indian, while my aunt and cousin were charged the citizen rate. When I told her I was Indian to test her, she wanted to see my ID.
It’s weird coming back here and finding such blunt racism in a country 64 years clear of independence from the British. I’m not used to hearing, “Oh, she was dark, not pretty” as if one logically follows from the other.
Indian TV doesn’t help any. Ads for fairness creams come complete with before and after pictures. But the country’s preoccupation with colour-based lightning-quick judgments predates the arrival of Europeans and British rule; light-skinned people were usually at the top of the much older Hindu caste system.
What’s most annoying is that this club in Delhi—which is a city rife with European, North American, and plenty of other, expats—has decided the meaning of the word ‘expat’ is open to interpretation.
When it’s Thursday night at Urban Pind, expat means white person.
Maybe even a golden olive, but certainly not brown. And if they decide you look like a ‘ch**k’, which is a word Delhiites use generously for Northeast-Indians, then good luck to you. Now that they’ve finally decided you are Indian at the door, you’re not going to get into the club.