You won't be lost as a foreigner or NRI in Delhi, not if Alexandre Clerin can help you.
When Alexandre Clerin decided to move to India to start his own services company for expatriates two years ago, he didn’t expect things to move along so quickly. Now, he says, he is barely able to keep pace.
“From step one, it’s like jumping to step three,” he laughs easily, and as he leans back to enjoy the moment, it’s palpable that there is a whole lot going on in his mind. He is “international” — not merely French — and even if his roots are back in his home country, he is keener to set up home elsewhere, whichever place catches his fancy. “I lived in Netherlands and Sweden for some time, working at Transcend. Then I lived in Thailand for a few years, which I loved. I thought why not India, it’s booming, after all.”
And so he moved to Delhi. “I really wanted to work on my own. I started my expat services company, d4delhi, two years ago. There aren’t many service companies like mine here, which is actually a one-stop shop for people who don’t know their way around here,” says Clerin.
The expat life, he explains, can be so disorienting in the first few months, that it feels good to step in and make things simpler for them. It is impressive how well he knows Delhi, the big and small of it. In the time that he has been around, he has stumbled upon lost corners that even a hardcore Delhiite wouldn’t know of. And he won’t rule out expanding to cover other metros as well at some point.
For now, many of his clients are from the UN, and there’s a healthy number of NRIs too. That’s where Clerin’s vast database of contacts comes into play. By day, he puts his clients in touch with real-estate agents, home-maintenance companies, car-rental agencies and travel services. His website, d4delhi.com, is a handy information source, updated regularly with contact numbers and events.
And by night, Clerin is around to show his clients how to live it up in a country not their own; he knows where the best party in town is. “I have a clear distinction in my work. My core business is to have a ready web or network of every kind of service that an expat might require here. More visibly, though, I bring together interesting events for expats as well as Indians, and there is no discrimination there,” he points out.
Discrimination is an oft-used word when it comes to expat nights — or theme parties at various lounges and resto-bars across the city. “We live in India, so how can one have a gathering and not have Indians?” He feels strongly about this, and makes sure the gatherings he organises are not tagged “expat nights”. “Let’s face it — if you are white, it’s easier to get into such places. When I organise parties, I make sure there aren’t bouncers to keep Indians away or anything of the sort. And that’s why I don’t like to associate myself with any bar that makes such distinctions,” he clarifies.
Apart from his main business, what he truly enjoys is bringing something new to each event. “You know, I have a couple of things I go by. First, I like to make the ladies comfortable when they go out alone, therefore, I’m a big one for ladies’ nights. Second, I love to bring together people from different countries, cultures and stratas of society,” Clerin says.
Recently, he put together operations for a Graffiti Week organised in the city. Three French graffiti artists painted various walls in Delhi, from a slum area to upscale lounge AI, and Clerin says he enjoyed every moment of the week. “Urban graffiti was so new to this city, it was great to work on that project,” he says.
While he has done his bit organising wild parties, both in Bangkok, where he lived for a while, and in Delhi, he has of late moved to more mature gatherings. “If I look at a higher-income group of expats, those who work in MNCs, the UN, embassies — they enjoy a quieter, smaller ambience. He points, as an example, to the evenings he used to organise at Baci, in south Delhi, where a mix of nationalities gelled exceptionally well to the music, from lounge to jazz. But even within the expat community, there are barriers which he is trying to break, plucking expats out of their comfort zone, introducing them to newer places and people.
“Though I don’t like to generalise about any community, there is a great sense of security in their close-knit groups that they often find difficult to come out of,” Clerin says. “But since I’m a member of a host of organisations, like the American Women’s Group, and the Swedish Gentlemen’s Group among many others, I try to create a mix.”
And since networking can be as social as it can be work-related, Clerin’s life zigzags between the two, and he often finds himself at work even at a friend’s birthday or in another no-work zone. But he isn’t complaining — frantic midnight calls for advice might be slightly bothersome, but otherwise he is always ready with a generous handshake.