Tailin Lyngdoh was silent on the car ride home. Everything she had worn in her 51 years was from a small bazaar in Shillong that sells beautiful printed textiles. But at lunchtime this past Sunday — nearly 2,000 km away from where she handpicks fabric every summer — she was “humiliated” for this, the first time in over a decade and two continents.
Fifteen minutes into a lunch invitation, the staff at the Delhi Golf Club that claims to have “no restrictions on national dress” asked her to leave the dining hall. She was told her Jainsem — a traditional Khasi dress — made her look like a “maid” and a “Nepali”, and she was asked to go sit in a separate area earmarked for domestic helps.
The Club on Tuesday admitted “the incident could have been handled in a much better way” and said that an apology had been extended to the member who brought the guest. The apology “has been unconditionally accepted”, the statement read. Yet none was directly extended to Tailin.
It was a similar ‘Jainsem’ that Tailin wore when she taught nine-year-old Raghav to kick a football in a park in London. She had met the boy and his parents, when he was barely a month old, in Guwahati and has since lived and travelled with the family — first to London, and now to Abu Dhabi, where the Sondhi family currently live.
“Khasi women are exceptional at child rearing and their services are sought after at a premium,” said Raghav’s mother Nivedita Barthakur-Sondhi, who refers to her as ‘Konj Tailin’. “It was 2007 when I handed over my child to her and that was it, she became family,” said Nivedita, who has worked full-time for years.
Tailin said she started looking after children when she herself was a little girl. “I have five children of my own and have spent years looking after others. Many of them have children of their own now,” Lyngdoh said, adding that she has walked through airports and on the streets of London in her ‘Jainsem’. “Raghav and I have spent days exploring London on foot and no one has ever said anything about my clothes,” she said.
Raghav’s father, Vivekananda, said when Tailin first came to live and work for the family, she was very clear. “I will not cook. I am a specialist in looking after children,” she had said. “Tailin was there on Sunday as our family. She is known to our family friends and treated as an equal. People at the club were threatened by the way we treated her,” he said.
Soon after she was asked to leave the table, Tailin’s family and all the other guests on her table stood up to leave. “Oh, Vivek,” she had said quietly looking over at Raghav’s father, “Does this mean I have to buy a pair of jeans now?”