India: "No Indians Allowed"

"No Indians allowed here," my (Indian) hotel-manager informed me when I first checked in. I said nothing, my surprise inhibiting my ability to respond. Later, after the necessary paperwork and passport submission, he repeated: "No Indians here." I could resist no longer. "Why?" I replied with an utter and complete lack of tact, "Indians nice people." "Yes, nice people," said he, "but no Indians here."

I arrived at "the disc" (slang for discotheque in Kolkata) at about one o'clock in the morning with a healthy buzz, and healthier company: I could scarcely afford a drink from this club's bar, with a bottle of Dom Perignon going for around 75,000 rupees -- far too rich for a lowly graduate student from Canada. Several hours of dancing and drinking later, and the room began to swirl -- the DJ was top-notch and the cocktails matched; the other patrons were immaculately dressed, strikingly beautiful, and possessed a degree of glitz and glamour which I sorely lacked, clad simply in a white linen shirt, torn jeans, and Birkenstocks.

I stepped out with my company a few hours later; the relentless Bengali humidity washing over my body like a baptism into the early morning. Immediately, a horde of street children surrounded us in unison, requesting money and food. Instantly, the air-conditioned comfort of the "disc," and the shiny, happy people found therein, seemed many miles away.

Back at my hotel, the manager asked me to watch the door for a few minutes while he stepped out for cigarettes. I obliged, even after -- again -- he stipulated the hotel's guiding "No Indian" policy. I wondered about what I might do if an Indian came to the door requesting cheap shelter for the night. "Sorry mate," would proclaim the white hippie in the blue kurta, "no Indians allowed."

A friend with an Indian boyfriend recounted to me a harrowing tale of fists pounding on her door, at a different hotel several blocks away, at two o'clock the previous morning. Apparently, the hotel staff's cause for concern was knowledge of an Indian -- my friend's boyfriend, in fact -- sleeping in their hotel, and occupying the same bed as my friend. We discussed the matter in a cafe on a street with fashionable restaurants with equally fashionable signs reading: "Rights of Admission Reserved." One might assume that at least some Indians are permitted entry into these establishments.

Some mornings later, after another night at the "disc," I awoke in my hotel; the sun pouring into my room (200 rupees a night does not afford curtains) and my thirst preventing further rest. I walked to the window to peer on the day -- I live on the second floor, and the view from my window reveals the entrance to my hotel lobby. I watched two backpackers approach: smiling, young, handsome men with white sneakers, dark blue jeans, and brightly colored t-shirts -- the same breed of budget traveler than can be found throughout the subcontinent, or indeed, almost anywhere on earth.

Immediately after they entered the lobby, I saw them depart, and their expressions had assumed a deflated air. As I watched them walk further down the street, I understood: they were Indian.