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(Not) an unsuitable job for a woman: What it takes to be a female bouncer in the capital


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Whenever there was military action on the border, Mehrun-Nisha Shaukat Ali and her six brothers and sisters used to stand on the roof of their house in Saharanpur, in Uttar Pradesh, watching troops muster. “Our mother would yell from below to come downstairs,” she tells us between purse-checks outside Hauz Khas Social, a bar in Delhi. “It was incredibly hot up there, but we’d stay for hours.” The kids would stand at attention, saluting, and yelling out, “We’re coming too! Someday we’ll join too!”

Nisha has come a long way from her days in UP’s Saharanpur district, where she was born to a Hindu mother and a Muslim father, the third of seven siblings, including three other sisters. Her mother, Shashi Kala Mishra, had been a munshi at the district court and had fallen in love with her father, Shaukat Ali, a devout Muslim, who used to come to the court to attend hearings over a property dispute. Eventually, she went against the wishes of her family to marry Ali. But he turned out to be a conservative father, never allowing his daughters to step out of the house. “My father had cut the electricity so that we could not study. He felt if we studied, we would run away and marry men of our choice. But my mother took immense pain to make us study at night in candlelight, after she saw two of my sisters who had been married off early suffer at their in-laws’ place,” says Nisha. She would have been married off at 14 too, only she got typhoid and was bedridden for a while

Mehrun-Nisha has always been a fighter. While she used to come back to school covered in scratches, she was also waging a war on another front—for the right to attend school in the first place. Her mother was her ally, encouraging her and her sister to study. Her father, afraid something might happen to his girls, was overprotective and against their going to school.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

After her illness, Nisha decided to take matters into her own hands. She enrolled as an NCC cadet and buffed up from 55 kg to her present weight of 80 kg, hoping to land a job with the police.Somewhere along the way, her father had a change of heart and let Nisha and her sister pursue a career, even though he was clear that a police job was not welcome. Sitting in their tiny two-bedroom apartment in Madangir central market in south Delhi, her mother says with a smile, “She is a completely different person now. There was a time when she only dreamed of getting married into a Rajasthani household and wear colourful bangles.”

It was only after Mehrun-Nisha finished 12th standard, and her picture appeared with former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav in the newspaper, that her father came around. “He was mad with happiness,” she says, describing how he put his arms around the sisters, admitting he had been too harsh. “We were so happy that year,” she remembers. “He bought us everything we wanted, celebrated—it was heaven.”

The family shifted to Delhi in 2007 after Ali suffered a huge loss in share markets and came to the capital looking for better opportunities. He had been an interior decorator before he retired, but now, Nisha needed to earn for a living. But though she had won the battle to study, her father was still against her working. Mehrun-Nisha secretly joined the National Cadet Corps, and completed her training, but when she brought home her new uniform, her father set fire to it on the stove. While her brothers joined their father’s profession and moved out, Nisha, armed with a Master’s degree in Hindi literature, found herself struggling to find a suitable job. She finally found an opening as a saleswoman in a shop selling ladies’ underclothes. Later, a chance meeting with an NGO worker led her to first hear about an opening for a female bouncer. Nisha, who had trained in karate in the meantime, was curious and applied. Her first tryst as a bouncer was at Jamia Millia Islamia for a company’s delegation meeting, where she was stationed to ensure the safety of women on campus. Four years later, Nisha now earns Rs 15,000 per month. For any additional event she volunteers for, be it the IPL matches, reality show auditions, film promotions or corporate launches, she charges Rs 500 per day.

Please tell us about your job?

Both Nisha and her sister Tarannum are now professional bouncers, but the job did not come easy. But the transition hasn’t been entirely smooth — her job entails late nights and on most weekdays, the earliest she can get back home is around 12.30 am. On weekends, the company car drops her home only around 1.30 am. “Some people in my neighbourhood would make fun of me and say, pata nahi kaha jati hai aur itni raat ko kya karti hai (Don’t know what she does and why she stays out so late). Initially, I would come home crying and my parents would console me. One day, our landlord came to my rescue and told them not to say a word against me because I support my family on my own. They stopped teasing me after that. Most of my neighbours now say, tere jaisi beti honi chahiye (all daughters should be like you),” says Nisha.

With the rise in the number of women clubbers, the demand for women bouncers have increased exponentially in the last couple of years. Riyaaz Amlani, CEO of Impresario, the company that owns Social, sought to bring in female bouncers at its various outlets in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore after a few months of its opening. “Women tend to feel intimidated by male bouncers. We realised that when it comes to dealing with women, it would be better to have women employees,” he says.

During his last visit to the restaurant, Sahil Bhatnagar, 24, a quality analyst at American Express, found himself in an uncomfortable situation when his female colleague became progressively drunk. It was Nisha and her colleague Geeta Lahorey who came to his rescue. They took the woman to the washroom and helped her get a hold on herself. “I think women bouncers are a must in a lounge, disc or a club,” says Bhatnagar.

The essentials of a female bouncer are fairly simple — a good build, strong personality and confidence, and the right height-weight ratio. But in a city like Delhi, with its love for guns and clouts, it also needs a lot of nerve and courage to hold one’s own, particularly during interventions that show no sign of de-escalating. “There have been a few instances where we have felt unsafe, but we try not to show it. Because if we do, then the female clientele will get scared even more. We have to put on a brave face at all times,” says Nisha.