Excerpt from book: Dard-e-Disco

In his book Seeking Shah Rukh Desperately, Shrayana Bhattacharya has followed the jobs and romances of a diverse group of women for 15 years. This edited excerpt is from a chapter about a young woman from Jaisalmer, working as a cabin crew in an airline, titled “A Girl Called Gold”.

Gold Mendiratta Wore The Tightest Dress On The Most Blessed Body Of all of the club. The first time I heard her voice was a lioness, roaring on a business scion in a Ralph-Lauren shirt, ‘How can you be so cruel, shhh. Never talk to me again ! It was 2008. Twenty-four-year-old Gold was furious at this young man’s attempts to grind with her on the dance floor. The man walked away, unfazed and amused, he and his friends smiling broadly at each other without any sense of shame or compromise. Gold’s anger grows. “Go back to your Russian whores. I bet you can’t even get hard on one of them. The final salvo. The deadly soft dick attack.

Shrayana Bhattacharya
Seeking Shah Rukh Desperately
HarperCollins, 2021

It was a violent break from an otherwise calm Delhi night. I was part of another entourage and was stunned in the silence. At the time, Gold and his friends enjoyed partying with rich, young, and carefree Indians. It was a time of plenty, and Gold’s singles community was in the mood for sexual accumulation.

Collect, collect, collect then select.

She came out in tears to smoke a cigarette, and I followed her. “What happened there? Are you OK?’ I asked. ‘It’s okay, I can handle boys trying to get close. I’m good at taking care of myself. But I can’t understand these boys and how they treat us. I know this guy, he’s dating me. He took me on dates in cafes, restaurants and clubs. For the past six months, we’ve exchanged messages and talked almost every night. I thought we had something. He texted that he would be at the club tonight and shows up with a white girl draped over him and then tries to grind with me. I’m so sick of these men and the way it all works. Shouldn’t they have manners, some consideration for how we feel? It hurts and it makes me want to scream.

I suggested that she watch a Shah Rukh film when she got home. It was a panacea, I said. Gold chuckled. She was a fan, she confessed, ‘I watch or listen to his songs every night. But his films are all lies, there are no men like that in the world. He himself is not like that. But he calms me down. And as we started talking about Shah Rukh, we started talking about his anger at the Delhi romance scene. Our conversation would go on for more than a decade.

A French connection

In early 2010, twenty-six-year-old Gold decided to test international waters, both in her career and in her love life. She sought work on foreign flights and sex with foreign men. During a party, she discovers a group of European expatriates in Delhi. I met some of these men with her; they traveled in small, tight crowds and were always dressed in linen. She fell in love with a handsome Frenchman.

Gold embarked on a series of long dinners and brunches with the Frenchman and his friends. She would describe these events with contemptuous admiration. “Nobody smiles and everyone looks very stern. Like my Hindi teacher at school. Even if you have met people many times, they will never come to say hello. Like saying hello costs money. Art nights were her favorite outing, where she would eventually spot a few famous models and news anchors. ‘itself of journalists, writers and artists. They spoke in low-key conferences, offering speeches rather than conversations, while drinking the “finest drinks” and all without a hint of doubt. pot as glamorous as they pontificated. Feeling awkward and out of place, she religiously Googled the ideas, images, and people she encountered. She searched for Foucault, Walter Benjamin, and John Berger.

Beyond a crude introduction to post-modernism via Wikipedia, Gold learned more practical lessons during the months she spent with her French. She learned that she was a “true Indian beauty”. She discovered that the French despised a heavily made-up look, only to expect women to manufacture “natural beauty”, which invariably required expensive cosmetics and dermatological products. She discovered that the French espoused the virtues of plump women but only married skinny women. ‘You have to be beautiful spontaneously. All these French women do a lot to appear to be doing very little. She found her journey from Jaisalmer to Delhi to be her staple dinner contribution. Otherwise, people hardly spoke to him. “They think I’m an experiment, like he’s testing what a relationship with a small town Indian girl would be like. I can tell by the way women talk to me.

Having been reduced to a beautiful spectator at events, Gold observed and reported. She remarked on how foreign-educated Indians politely ignored the small town women who did all the unseen work to make these parties possible, how desperately they wanted white people to think they were hip, how the “group self-proclaimed intellectual (men)” only spoke to women with a waist circumference of twenty-eight or less, how larger women without husbands generally spoke to each other. She found that her English was better than any of the European expats in the room, although the goras were still unable to understand what she was saying. She surmised that Europeans liked different “types of paneer”. His biggest battle was with deli meats. That year, she was always hungry. Dying to taste kadi-chawal, only to be served plates of cheeses and charcuterie that intimidated him. One evening, she confessed her fears of cheese to her Frenchman. He laughed and told her everything there was to know. She had never felt closer to him, but further from the food she loved to eat. “He doesn’t like Indian food because it’s not subtle enough for him, our food is too spicy.” We’ll go out together for a few Indian meals, but the main food at his friends’ house is bland and seems hard to eat. Once I cooked curry at his house, and he spent most of the next morning complaining about the smell.

Gold was amazed at the civilizational confidence displayed. One time she came back from dinner and called to say, “I had to tell you. This blonde girl had just returned from Jaisalmer and was introduced to me. She said she liked the town and the fort. And then she said I must be so proud of where I came from. And you know, I realized that’s the difference between us and strangers. I am not at all proud of Jaisalmer fort or the city. No one I know built this fort. The city was never a free or fair place for me, so I left. But she was so proud of Paris, behaving as if she had built the Louvre herself! I don’t love my past as much as they love theirs.

She introduced her French and some of her friends to DDLJ and Every two! India. She told them how Shah Rukh received official recognition from the French government as an Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters in 2007. Her audience simply enjoyed the dance sequences, laughing at the remaining content. Later she said to me: ‘It irritated me because I felt like they thought Shah Rukh and Hindi films were silly because that’s not how foreigners show love.’ Gold meets whiteness as a universal subject.

More and more, as their relationship progressed over a year and a half, she lived in her own head. With every attempt to be engaging, she sacrificed being herself. She began to dress differently, burning through her savings. “Being his girlfriend was expensive. He always paid for the meals, but I had to be careful what I wore with him. But no matter what I wore, I could never look as stylish as these women. They weren’t as pretty as me, but they looked so effortlessly glamorous. I felt like something was still wrong with my outfits and the way I wore them. For Gold, elegance became something white people invented to make dark people feel bad about themselves. Eventually, she lost interest in being interesting. She stuck to her role as the essential Small-Town-Beauty with very few words.

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