While Mehrun-Nisha Shaukat Ali once dreamed about becoming a soldier or a police officer, she ultimately put her brawn to use as a bouncer.
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!”
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.
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.”
But the next year, in 2007, the family suffered a serious financial blow and relocated to Delhi. Mehrun-Nisha wanted to help out, and dreamed about joining the police. 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. Yet Mehrun-Nisha persevered, studying for a masters’ degree from Meerut, and working in retail, first at a clothing store for children.
When she heard about a job as a bouncer, Mehrun-Nisha thought it might be a good fit. She was physically fit, thanks to the gym routine she and her uncle had established years earlier. She soon became known as a good hire and eventually joined Hauz Khas Social, while her younger sister, Tarannum, took up a bouncer job at another club nearby.
The two sisters like their work, but Mehrun-Nisha, now 30, hasn’t stopped looking at the road ahead. Alongside her job at Social and freelance security work, she recently completed a one-year cooking diploma and is finishing up as a trainee at Joocy, a delivery restaurant in Gurgaon. “I can’t be a bouncer forever,” she says. “I always liked cooking, and figured this would be a good career.”
This article is part of a series of stories written by freelance journalist and editor Sonal Shah and photographed by Abhinandita Mathur on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8.