Kidding with customers and colleagues, Mehrunnisha Shokat Ali may be mistaken for some other patron at Social, a popular cafe in the swanky Hauz Khas Village.
But the intent gaze of her kohl-rimmed eyes, as she stands with arms folded on the edge of the dance floor in an all-black outfit, watching couples bob and spin to the music, gives away her real occupation.
She is Social’s well known female bouncer.
Mehrunnisha has been a bouncer for about 10 years, and for the last three years, has done 10-hour night shifts at Social, which works as an eatery and co-working space seating 220 individuals by day, but transforms into a packed club at night.
Now Mehrunnisha is an expert in breaking up bar fights, frisking female clients, and uncovering illegal drugs.
“We chose to employ women to ensure that ladies clients too felt safe, and we found a great match in Mehrunnisha,” said Social’s owner Riyaaz Amlani, who says she defused countless alcohol fuelled fights.
“She was fierce and determined, and the rest is history,” he said.
The 30-year-old’s career highlights include being part of the security detail for Bollywood performers, for example, Priyanka Chopra, Preity Zinta and Vidya Balan.
Mehrunnisha is no stranger to smashing stereotypes.
Experiencing childhood in a large Muslim family in Saharanpur, 200 km from Delhi, she dreamed of joining the army or becoming a police officer, however her deeply conservative father opposed the idea.
Only her mom’s request allowed her to further her education beyond primary school.
But when her dad’s stock market losses forced the family to move to the capital, Mehrunnisha, still in college, became the breadwinner for a household consisting of parents, two sisters, and her elder sister’s three children, besides herself.
“Several times my brother has asked me, what sort a job is this?” Mehrunnisha said recounting how difficult it had been to get her family to accept her night shifts.
“But this does not influence me, because my mom and dad have confidence and trust in me, and I know I am not doing anything wrong,” she said.
Her younger sister, Tarannum, 27, also works as a bouncer at a bar in the Village. Together, they gain Rs. 30,000 per month.
They take immense pride in their profession, spending at least an hour in the gym each day, and working through holidays.
“I am very proud of what I do, it’s not an easy job,” Mehrunnisha said.
“Dealing with individuals, particularly women in a club, is a very big responsibility.”
Clients seem to agree.
“If I come here and I see a female bouncer, I feel a lot secure,” said Nikita Lamba, who frequently comes to Social.
“Mehrunnisha is pretty kick-ass. She is good at what she does,” she said.