The Girl From F&B: A Portrait of the New India

51ZUr9ymkxL._SL500_AA300_ An excerpt from Siddhartha Deb's The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India, in The Nation:

Esther once worked as a waitress at Hotel Shangri-La, serving breakfast, high tea and happy hour drinks at the Horizon Club on the nineteenth floor. Some of her guests were businessmen passing through Delhi, while others maintained small but expensive office suites along the corridors twisting away from the club lounge. In the evening, these men sat in the lounge sipping Black Label Scotch with lots of ice, appreciative of the quiet, smiling demeanor with which Esther brought them their food and drinks, leaving them to talk to one another or on their BlackBerrys while outside the sheer glass windows the sun went down softly over the Parliament building and the palatial bungalows of industrialists and politicians. One of the men who sat in the club lounge was an arms dealer. I met him before I met Esther, although the reason I went to see the arms dealer was because I was looking for Esther.

All through the past few years in India, sometimes in Delhi and sometimes in other cities, I had noticed the women who worked as waitresses in cafes and restaurants and as sales assistants in retail stores. They were usually in their 20s, soft-spoken and fluent in English. In the shape of their eyes, their cheekbones and their light skin, I could read their origins in northeastern India. They were polite but slightly reticent until I spoke to them and told them that I too had grown up in the northeast. Then they seemed to open up, and often there were extra touches of attention as they served me. I flattered myself that they liked me. After all, I knew where they were from, I was generous with my tips and I thought I understood something of their loneliness in the loneliness I had felt when I began to leave my small-town origins behind and started my drift through cities. But in most ways, I wasn’t like them. I had grown up in Shillong, the most cosmopolitan of urban centers in the northeast, while the women were from Nagaland or Manipur, the first generation from these states to abandon their poor, violence-ridden homes for the globalized metropolises of the mainland. Their journey was longer and harder than mine had ever been, and although there were tens of thousands of them in Delhi alone, they were in some sense utterly isolated, always visible in the malls and restaurants but always opaque to their wealthy customers.