In the beginning, all that Remi noted, were the differences. “The weather, the food, the language, the people, the dresses — all reminded me of how far away I was from Kalimpong,” says the charming hairdresser at Mrs Runu Mukherjee’s Aphrodite salon at Chittaranjan Park.
Now the little local market facing the Kali temple is her second home. “The first, of course, is our parlour with my friends and colleagues,” says Remi, flashing a big grin.
Mrs Mukherjee, an expert beautician herself, says: “The girls from the Northeast are smart, good-looking, customer-friendly and sincere. Their hands are set for hair. Most of my clients who come for hair jobs ask for them.”
Mimi’s stint at her workplace had a tricky start. The tall, slim girl from Nagaland could speak just Naga and English. Most of her colleagues wouldn’t understand her. But that led to an interesting situation: “The result was we learnt English and she learnt Hindi,” says Rachana, a co-worker.
Remi, a Sikkimese Lepcha settled in Kalimpong, has also found out ways to ‘return’ to her lifestyle right here in Delhi “Can’t wear frocks and sleeveless dresses like we can freely in the hills used to be my constant crib. Then I realised it was the same for everybody. So I decided not to complain and be ‘in fashion’ during group outings,” she says.
Seema Tamang, another hairdresser, came to Delhi in ’98. “I miss the tea gardens but when I go there, I miss Delhi,” she says with a smile counting the city’s pluses: Red Fort, Lotus temple — there are so many places to visit. All kinds of people can live and earn here.”
The band of girls from the Northeast and north Bengal love the work environment. “10 a.m. to 6 p.m. are our duty hours. Daily, it’s 4-5 haircuts, 12-15 during peak season — it’s not all that tough,” says Seema.
Their relationship with their Punjabi landlord is also clear-cut and correct: “He just wants money — on time. Money for rent, money for water and electricity. And why won’t he?”
Remi denies the outsiders’ oft-quoted claim of the city’s snobbishness. “Many of our customers have turned friends. They ask us about our homes, we ask about theirs.”