In those days, we used to watch movies like ‘snake woman’ back in Nigeria,” says Hillary John, a Nigerian fashion designer, trying to recall the Hindi title of the superhit film from the 70s, Nagin, a film about a snake which could turn into a woman. “It was not so much of what we heard, but what we saw in those films intrigued us about India,” says John.
John came to India five years ago as a tourist and later decided to come back and study fashion designing. After graduating from a private institute of fashion designing, he set up his brand called the Diamond Ark and is particular about not calling his designs ‘African’. “I’m an African-born designer and I design for everybody,” says John, who has opened a small outlet in Safdarjung Enclave.
John belongs to a growing population of Nigerians living in the capital. According to estimates by All India Nigerian Students and Community Association (AINSCA), around 4,000 - 5,000 Nigerians have settled in Delhi. Apart from students who turn to India for higher education, many from the African country have flocked to India looking for better avenues and a bright future. Jenny Brown is one of them.
Brown runs a small African beauty parlour tucked away in the bylanes of Panchsheel Vihar in Malviya Nagar. Her friend, Prince Franklin David, observing the rising population of Africans in Delhi and the dearth of African beauty salons, invited Brown, a trained hair-stylist from Nigeria, to set up a parlour.
Although opened to cater to African women, the shop does get some Indian customers. “The language barrier makes it a bit difficult to style Indians. Maybe learning Hindi would help,” says Brown. David plans to expand his business and turn it into a unisex salon. While John, who has 16 Indian workers under him, prefers his designs to do the talking.
Places like Malviya Nagar, Hauz Rani, Arjun Nagar, Dwarka and Kingsway Camp have become home for many Nigerians. Although there are problems of getting reasonable accommodation, most seem content with their neighbourhoods — save some awkward stares and discriminatory remarks. “Some people can be racist, but most are friendly. And if any one does pass a comment I usually ignore it,” says David.
Africans here live in a closely-knit community where even special club nights are by invitation only. One such popular club is Ion Club on MG Road, Gurgaon that organises dance nights for Africans living in the region. With the sub-culture steadily taking roots in the capital, many eating joints have cropped up in the city. Manny’s Square in Arjun Nagar, one such restaurant that serves authentic Nigerian cuisine is run by an expat and is popular within the circle.
With the news about Nigerians involved in illegal activities, Nigerians like John are careful of how they are perceived in the neighbourhood and the community. “Negative press coverage hurts our image and we don’t want to be associated with such news,” says John. “I’m fond of Indian food and Bollywood music. I feel more Indian than African now!”