Nigerian student Saifullahi Mohammad has picked up a smattering of Hindi in the last five years in Delhi.
But his vocabulary is mainly a handful of expletives and racial expressions, all hurled at him from time to time.
“Kaali or Kaala. Sometimes, when I am out, people call me all this. It means black,” said the 26-year-old Nigerian pursuing his masters at Jamia Hamdard University, in his broken English. “That’s how I learnt the word.”
For the likes of Saifullahi, such unique lessons in the language are commonplace; a natural fallout of experiences of discrimination.
Delhi offers opportunities, but life here comes with the baggage of racial stereotypes.
“It is nothing but racism if people you don’t know call you names, tease you for the way you look and remind you about the colour of your skin,” said Dawit (24), a Kenyan, who did not disclose his full name.
Some days are better — there is no name calling. It’s just stares.
“Staring, I can tolerate. I look different and so staring is understandable. But why take pictures of me?,” said Samuel (who declined to give his second name), a 21-year-old Ugandan studying commerce at Delhi University.
A few weeks ago, some boys on the Metro began taking his pictures on their mobile phones. Samuel chose to ignore it, and so did the others.
“I haven’t travelled all the way from home to pick up fights here. I am here to study. Being patient is the best way to deal with such issues,” said Dawit.
“It is a little disheartening because I, honestly, did not expect this here,” he added.
Dawit had assumed India would not be so alien. Indians live in Uganda, returning four decades after dictator Idi Amin evicted them from the east African country.
Many African students try to rationalise the behaviour.
“There are times I think such behaviour does not stem from an intention to insult us,” said Jabbi Aminu Muhammad (30), pursuing his masters from Jamia Millia Islamia. “May be they stare because they just haven’t seen people like me before. Moreover, teasing usually comes from uneducated people.”
“Racism exists everywhere. People in some of the most developed nations are prejudiced.” said Saifullahi. “I don’t hold anything against anyone here.”