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Homing in on security

Many Russian girls come to Delhi on tourist visas to earn a living, find a partner and a secure family environment. Here is a look into their tryst with Delhi

There are many Russians and Russian-speaking people in Delhi — especially in Paharganj and Ram Krishna Marg area.  A few also live in Saket, Malviya Nagar and Arjun Nagar, to name a few such enclaves. Some of them are Indian citizens who have been staying for decades, since the time of the USSR.

The word ‘Russian’, over the years, has become a code word for white woman hustler. But those who have lived in the city for long have come to terms with it. They are spread all over, so much so that they have now blended into the local population.

Russians are much more shy than say, Nigerians, who are very expressive about their condition in the city. One reason could be because the gender ratio is five Russian women for every Russian man in Delhi — a conservative estimate.

There are some notable exceptions to the otherwise reticent Russians, like Tatsiana, who is in her late twenties. She’s bright and articulate about her life and times in Delhi.  She’s from Russian-speaking Belarus in Eastern Europe, with rich cultural heritage and beautiful landscapes. She has been living in Delhi for about two years and is married to an Indian, Rohan Saraf.

Theirs is not a typical love story, like that of many Russian girls in Delhi, who came here to find  work, with an open mind to marry an Indian and settle into a secure family. They met in the Bahamas, where courtship ensued and they decided to go to India together. It was more of a professional decision than emotional longing. Saraf came back in 2015, she joined him a year later.

They were both working in the hospitality industry, but Saraf wanted to start his own business in Delhi.  In 2016, they opened Roadhouse Cafe in Greater Kailash-1, which serves neither Indian or Russian cuisines but Italian, with a collection of seasonal light home-style cooking from farm-to-table.  Tatsiana helps her husband run the cafe and her social life is “up to the par,” she says, adding, “I organise various social activities for expats and locals, as well as projects for social good.”

She explains that Russian people, especially girls, come to India to make a living. “They say some are into prostitution, but I haven’t met any,” she says, adding, “Some say Russians are not behaving properly — they are into belly dancing and such things. But there is a demand for it, and therefore there’s the supply, so you can’t blame the suppliers for it.”

There’s another side of the story that often gets ignored. These girls, who come on tourist visas in large numbers, take up odd jobs that include serving drinks at parties, or as background dancers in a Bollywood number, or modelling. They also indulge in small trade, like imports in small quantities – typically, a suitcase full of leather garments or Ayurveda products is taken to Moscow or St Petersburg to sell its contents at a huge premium.

While these odd jobs make them earn a living, they are many who want a family, children and a place they can call home.

Sometimes, things go wrong for them as their eagerness to find love and a family makes them vulnerable. Daria, who is in her late twenties, is an aerobics instructor from St Petersburg. She met a Kashmiri travel agent three years ago and they embarked on a romance.

However, they did not live happily ever after. Her Indian boyfriend would demand money on some pretext or the other and would never repay. He cashed in on her emotional vulnerability. About six months ago, Daria gave birth to a child and her boyfriend disappeared from the scene. He would even not take her calls. Now, after repeated efforts, the mother of her boyfriend has agreed to take care of the child. She is keeping her fingers crossed.

Many Russian women in India are married to a man from some other country and continue to live in Delhi, like Maria. She met her Nigerian husband, Ola Jason online. They decided to meet — Jason invited her to Delhi where he had been living for nearly 10 years.  They first lived together and then got married in November 2015.

Later, Maria opened a company with the help of her husband and started trading. She exports Ayurvedic products to Russia. She also helps her husband in his business of organising Russian models for parties, as extras in movies, event management and a host of such activities. “Delhi has given me difficult moments,” she acknowledges, but also a family. She adds, “I will stay here for as long as my two-year-old daughter will want to stay in the country of her birth.”

Many of the Russian women, in their quest to find a family, initially take the help of  a  ‘godmother’. A godmother is usually an older Russian woman who has stayed in India long enough to provide the newcomers a much-needed support system and to help them get a job.

Alyona, in her late twenties, who says in broken English, “I don’t live in Delhi. I just come here for a few months to meet my friends and take lessons in dance, yoga and Hindi.  I like India’s culture, people and places. The only thing I don’t understand is why people make this beautiful country so dirty.”

“When I walk the streets of Delhi, I hear people calling me gori or Russian,” says Jacy, a Canadian married to an Indian living in Lajpat Nagar. A tall, slender woman with a ready wit, she will soon appear in a Punjabi movie as a lead actor. “They think all white women are Russians. I’m not comfortable with the way many Indian men approach me. I get the impression that they think white women are easy to get laid. Perhaps because pornography features predominantly white women. I know many Indian girls are much wilder,” she says.

She initiates conversations with Indian men by saying, ‘I’m married’, and if need be she adds an adjective as well, ‘I’m happily married.’  She doesn’t go out for long walks after sundown — something she loved doing in Canada. Also, she doesn’t wear short skirts or tops that reveal her shoulders.

Tatsiana is less circumspect in dealing with strangers, perhaps, because for a good part of her life she has been an expat — for nearly 15 years. “India is not an unfriendly place. Sometimes you meet narrow-minded people, but it happens everywhere.  I know discrimination against Russian-speaking people exists, especially against women. Many claim that they come to India for not really good reasons. However, personally I do not feel it. If you feel good about yourself, no one can make you feel any lesser!”

A mantra for most expats!