Minding their gaps

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Foreign students are flocking to India on a ‘gap year’ but finding most locals are only intent on one dark fetish — and are willing to pay.  Story and images by Garima Jain

White comfort A gap year student tending bar at Delhi’s Hard Rock Cafe

IT’S DARK and noisy inside Arjun Rampal’s LAP nightclub in Delhi, with laser lights and electronic music — just like any other night, except tonight’s theme party has brought out the masks and costumes. At midnight three white girls burst upon the scene carrying champagne and candles. The crowd cheers, the candles are blown out and then, boom! Corks go off. The three girls dance their way into the crowd, middle-aged Indian men pull them aside to pose in front of the photographers. The girls smile into the camera as the men spray champagne all over them.

Many of these ‘champagne girls’ are foreign students who’re coming to India for a brief interlude of adventure. Students in the West often take a year off — a Gap Year — to travel and work abroad. India has become a preferred destination with its expanding economy and an English speaking populace. Typically, they arrive after finishing high school or college. Spaniard Jaime Arredondo, 24, who works at a Delhi marble export company says, “It’s become fashionable in Europe to say I went to India.” Many arrive on tourist visas and then search for work. Some get work visas through AIESEC, the global youth organisation. Once the gap year meant only interning with MNCs, management trainees at hospitals or working in NGOs. Today, they are being recruited for other, vastly stranger jobs. And being champagne girls may be the most ordinary of the lot.

Hungarian Lila Cseke, 22, knows plenty about the Indian fascination for white skin. She works with an education company and often takes Indian school kids for historical tours around Delhi like Humayun’s Tomb. To supplement her Rs. 15,000 salary, she has taken on work like joining a group of white people at an Ayurveda conference in Mathura, where all they had to do was to appear on stage with marigold garlands for a photograph. In another instance, Cseke went to a Delhi farmhouse wedding with other white girls. Transported in a tempo like cattle, they were told to change into skimpy dresses in the November cold. For Rs. 3,000, each was asked to pretend to be friends of the bride or groom.

For Rs. 3,000, Lila Cseke was asked to wear a skimpy dress at a Delhi wedding and pretend to be friends of the bride or groom

Diana Cobaleda, a 22- yearold Colombian, says she was paid Rs. 2,000 by a restaurant in Delhi to eat a meal with other white folks and raise its international image. She laughs about being approached by event management companies. “Indians want to pay us to come to their parties,” she says.

Most students say they’re eager to capitalise on the Indian fetish for white skin, given the paltry salaries they make at ‘real’ jobs. But some find their skin too thin to last long. Corlata Danna, a 23- year-old Italian, used to telemarket for an Indian marble company. She was a champagne girl at LAP one night. She says the nightclub encouraged her to mingle with the crowd and drink with men if they ask her. The foreign girls are all asked to wear short dresses. “They wanted to see our legs,” smiles Danna acidly. “I didn’t feel very comfortable. The men would get drunk, pull me aside to take photos, spray champagne all over us. They seemed fascinated with anything on two legs with a white skin. I got sick of smiling at all the half-bald, middle-age men. Danna was paid Rs. 5,000 but didn’t go again. She complains of Indian racism even as she circulates her own prejudices, winking, “Russian girls get paid Rs. 10,000. They prefer the Russians, who’re ready to do more for the guests.”

The white skin fetish has created its own cottage industry. Sai Hospitality India’s proprietor Rahul (no last name) says blithely, “I provide white girls for parties, business conferences, weddings: tequila girls, Arabian night dancers, pole dancers, bartenders girls and girls who only stand around at parties. My charges range from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 1.5 lakh for a girl per night. Whichever country you want, I can provide.”

Day job Lila Cseke at her regular job as tour guide for Delhi school children

Richa Singh, who works at Delhi’s KamaKazi wedding planners, raises the snobbery stakes. “We provide authentic English girls, not Lebanese, Chinese or Indian. Many companies colour the hair of Indian girls and pose them as foreigners. We’re not into such things. We charge Rs. 5,000 per girl for only standing at parties. They’re only eye candy for the guests. They’re like dolls. We have provided girls for functions at the Le Meridian hotel, the Capitol club and F-bar,” she says. While people like Rahul and Richa once sought professionals, they now turn to the cheaper gap year student.

“Indians are fascinated by my skin colour. Everybody kept staring at us,” remembers Cseke of the farmhouse wedding she attended. “I felt embarrassed since I was getting more attention than the couple getting married. The men kept offering us drinks. I got this strange feeling that they thought white girls are loose and easy to bed. Everyone in India is crazy about white girls. I wonder why?”

 

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