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Some looks can be deceiving

William Chang has lived in Delhi all his life. Yet many Delhiites regularly treat him as an outsider.

india Updated: May 14, 2006 02:17 IST

William Chang has lived in Delhi all his life. Yet many Delhiites regularly treat him as an outsider. Racial roll calls from strangers is a fact of life for this 24-year-old photographer of Chinese origin. And he's taken all of that in stride.

Auto drivers always assume he's a tourist and demand twice the usual fare. “They are then shell-shocked when I begin to bargain in Hindi,” says Chang, who lives in Lajpat Nagar.

It is much the same story for Chung-Sean Hugh. Born in Kasauli and now a shoemaker living in Delhi's Jor Bagh, Chung-Sean Hugh feels 'different' from other Indians only when people call him “Chink” or “Nep”.

Made up of 25 families, Delhi's Chinese community is well integrated into the mainstream - at least geographically. Unlike the Chinese diaspora abroad or in Kolkata, they don't live in the ubiquitous China Towns. In fact, the community in Delhi does not even congregate at special gatherings, and the members rarely meet socially.

Despite their successful integration within Delhi society, Chinese of all ages are determined to maintain their distinctive culture. William, whose friends are mostly Punjabi, speaks only Hakka-dialect with his family.

The general prosperity in Delhi has dramatically changed Delhi's Chinese population. The first generation of immigrants, who mostly arrived in Calcutta were often penniless migrants. Their children moved to Delhi in the fifties and set up the trademark family-run shoe shops, restaurants and beauty parlours.

Although, as with many Indians, the lure of better prospects abroad draws many, others can't think of leaving their hometown.

And what would they miss most if they left India? “I would miss my friends, I would be a stranger anywhere else,” says Chung-Sean.

First Published: May 14, 2006 02:17 IST