On 16 July 2016, at around 8 pm, after a day of heavy rain, I navigated through the sewage-mixed rainwater streets to reach the MCD school at Rajpur Extension in south Delhi. I had been here the previous Saturday, on 9 July as well, to meet Ola Jason who runs a salon and office out of a 6x7 feet shop near the school. Hailing from Lagos in Nigeria, the 40-year-old Jason is primarily an actor and filmmaker. He has appeared in minor roles in the Bollywood films Sultan, the yet to be released Dangal, and the Gujarati film Carry on Kesar. “Back home, Indian films and TV channels are very popular, but here we don’t get African channels even on cable,” he told me, while shearing his compatriot Mike’s skull with an electronic trimmer.
Jason has lived in Delhi since 2011. Since January 2014, when the Aam Aadmi Party MLA, Somnath Bharti conducted a midnight raid against a group of Africans at Khirki Extension, Jason has also functioned as an unofficial representative for the city’s African residents through his involvement with community efforts and demonstrations, and by acting as an intermediary for the police and the media. “The Khirki episode was the first case, and it’s still ongoing at the courts. That’s when some of us linked up with human rights activists, lawyers and journalists to stop such stigmatisation.”
Apart from helping African expatriates find resolution in the cases that they have filed for violence and discrimination against them, Jason told me that the idea was to spread cultural awareness among the locals and foster intercultural exchange through food festivals, sports events and music. Asked about the things he missed about home, Jason shook his head and repeated “I miss so many things . . .” four times, before looking up with a wistful smile. That evening, as I left the shop, I heard Mike and Jason excitedly discuss the Wimbledon final scheduled for that night, and the prospect of Serena Williams lifting a twenty-second Grand Slam.