Unconventional circumstances and quirky encounters, infectious charisma, and spectacular stories. Over the years, I have stumbled across paths with hundreds of personalities – some stayed, while others blurred into a whirlwind of recollections that are stirred only by the appearance of a causal association.
Yet, memories of these experiences remain intact.
Such was my life living on $3 a day in New Delhi, India.
India is a mystical land. When we first arrived, our friend gently reminded us that the country is unlike any other. Rich in culture, history, and contrasts, India’s spiritual and religious identity, like its people, is fused with wondrous tales that are never not intriguing.
The episode was everything as it sounds – extreme budgeting, much confusion, and no regret. Despite the absurdity of the event, it didn’t last too long. After a month of ups and downs, Jacy and I were ‘adopted’ by one of Delhi’s biggest international modeling agencies.
The situation was no less than bizarre, especially when considering the ill-advised decision made by two foreign girls, who moved around Delhi a couple times and ended up in a stranger’s house without much plan.
Clearly, my roommate and I were restless campers. Having landed in Delhi in August, we realized that our AC-less, ant-infested apartment may not sustain us through the Indian summer.
When the opportunity arose, we decided to jump ship.
The second apartment was rented by a friend’s friend. The landlord and his family lived on the second floor while his parents lived on the first. Jacy and I had the entire upstairs to ourselves.
Although it sounded promising, the 20 sq ft room was equipped with broken windows and unlockable doors. The insufficiencies of the minuscule living space were justified by an open-space balcony.
Or so I thought.
The night after we moved in, I woke up in the middle of the night with a jolt. Just above eye-level, a dark shadow slowly floated up and disappeared into the ceiling. Still in a daze, I blamed my half-asleep brain for playing tricks and went back into a deep slumber.
The next morning, my roommate calls me from downstairs and tells me to stay indoors.
“Why?” I was eager to start exploring the area.
“Because people are mourning.”
Following the passing of the grandfather, I still get chills just thinking about the string of events that happened during our month-long stay. From my disease to her ex-husband problems, my motorcycle accident to her stalker, almost losing my passport in the mountains, catching asthma, bug-infested beds, strange photos, leaking toilets, and goosebump-inducing incidents, there was not a single, peaceful day.
Aside from being afraid to come home at night due to this strange, eerie feeling, we’d find ourselves dealing with a lot of confusing personalities.
And we weren’t the only ones who felt this way.
The trigger, for me, only came weeks after. While chatting with some friends at work, I looked down at my wrists and noticed that about an inch of all four of my bangles were missing. For South Asian women, broken bangles can be a sign of bad omen.
Stressed with daily incidents and restless nights, I followed a friend’s advice, went to the temple outside the city and prayed my heart out.
A couple of days later, we were invited to stay at the Modeling Agency. And all this nonsense ceased from happening.
Living with Models
LM is a Delhi-based modeling agency for commercial shoots and TV. As a friend, I had the benefit of being present at random events without needing to attend them as was required by these live-in models. There was always a free booth, endless meals, and drinks for days.
And these happened frequently.
We were out and about every other night. At times, people would drag their tired bodies into drunken slumber as if it’d be a sin to not have fun. It became normative to interact with bar owners, club keepers, restaurant overseers. Quickly, New Delhi- or its nightlife counterpart, became crowded with familiar faces and plastered smiles.
On weekends, we’d sometimes host events and weddings for a little extra income.
These lavish functions usually hire foreign women to greet guests and serve drinks. It was supposed to add a layer of luxury to the 50-course buffet, beautifully decorated dance floor and thousand-person affair.
Hired foreigners were often of European descent. However, women of any background, from Brazilians to Iranians, were happily employed if they decide to apply.
Except for Asians.
At first, I thought myself fortunate to be hired by an events company with the help of a friend. I had a strict budget in Delhi and the money earned would go towards traveling around the Himalayas. I quickly accepted the offer to work at half the rate as my Canadian roommate, who was white.
The weddings we hosted were massive, often with 500-1000 guests. Aside from the multiple changes in outfits and varying tasks, we were instructed to ‘play’ drums and violins alongside real musicians. Most of the time, we stumbled around in heels and took pictures with/of the attendees.
It was the most bizarre yet intriguing experience.
But the social implications of these functions are much more than meets the eye.
This one time, the event planners pulled two of the European hostesses from the dozen of us. While the rest of us ‘played’ drums and violins to accompany the bride who came into the wedding hall on a carriage, the selected two were made to stand behind the lead rope and pull the carriage forward from the door to the main stage in front of some 1000 people.
I was mortified.
Unquestionably, the beautiful façade of the entertainment industry quickly dissolved. There were so many sociocultural issues that persisted; it made the exhausting nightly drinking activities seem childish.
Regardless, the events opened doors to other interesting opportunities, such as hosting a poker booth at an international tattoo conference.
Currently residing in my 5th country, I am often struck by how different life can be just hours away. It’s such a reassuring feeling knowing that these multifaceted people I’ve met over the years are living in parallel to the moments I’ve created for myself. As cliché as it is, our paths are forever connected at its point of intersection.
Maybe I experienced too much, too fast. But would I do all this again?
I’d give a ready yes.