Fit­ting time to cel­e­brate East In­di­ans’ suc­cess

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - NEWS - By Carl Nolte Carl Nolte is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist. His col­umn ap­pears ev­ery Sun­day. Email: cnolte@sfchron­i­cle. com Twit­ter: @carl­noltesf

Twenty years ago, when M.R. Ran­gaswami moved to San Fran­cisco, there were only a few East In­di­ans in the city. “There were hardly any of us here then. Maybe a thou­sand or so,” he said.

Now, there are 10 times as many in the city, and thou­sands more in the Bay Area, said Ran­gaswami, a soft­ware en­gi­neer who founded a non­profit lead­er­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion, In­di­as­pora, in 2012 to unite In­dian Amer­i­cans and show­case their suc­cess on the global stage.

East In­di­ans are one of the fastest-grow­ing eth­nic groups in the United States. “There are 3 mil­lion In­di­ans in the United States,” he said, “and I would guess that 10 per­cent of them are in the Bay Area.”

That would be about 300,000 In­dian Amer­i­cans in the re­gion, most of them in and around Sil­i­con Val­ley, drawn to the high-tech com­pa­nies that have trans­formed the Bay Area.

This is a par­tic­u­larly good time to note the rise of this com­mu­nity. This week is the cel­e­bra­tion of Di­wali, the Hindu fes­ti­val of light, which marks the tri­umph of light over dark­ness, good over evil. Wed­nes­day is the night of the new moon, the most im­por­tant day of the fes­ti­val.

Di­wali marks a cel­e­bra­tion of In­dian cul­ture. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant time. “It is some­thing like our Christ­mas. Peo­ple wear new clothes, give gifts, light lamps and set off fire­works,” Ran­gaswami said. “It is big.”

There is even a Di­wali postage stamp. It’s good luck to put it on U.S. mail.

In­di­ans have had great suc­cess in this coun­try. “It is the rich­est eth­nic com­mu­nity in the United States,” Ran­gaswami said. The av­er­age me­dian house­hold in­come among In­dian Amer­i­cans, he said, is $110,000 a year, nearly twice the na­tional av­er­age.

One rea­son: the tech in­dus­try. In­di­ans are ev­ery­where in high tech, mostly be­cause of the old coun­try’s net­work of elite en­gi­neer­ing col­leges. In 1956, Jawa­har­lal Nehru, In­dia’s first prime min­is­ter, called the col­leges his coun­try’s “fu­ture in the mak­ing,” At the time, agri­cul­ture still dom­i­nated In­dia. When the tech boom hap­pened, the coun­try was ready to ex­port thou­sands of sci­en­tists and engi­neers. “The fu­ture found us,” Ran­gaswami said.

As a re­sult, the Bay Area has seen an amaz­ing growth in the In­dian pop­u­la­tion, es­pe­cially in the South Bay heart of Sil­i­con Val­ley but also in Fre­mont, Pleasan­ton, Dublin and San Ra­mon, where the In­dian pop­u­la­tion in­creased by an es­ti­mated 490 per­cent in 10 years.

“If you go to places like Fre­mont or Cu­per­tino, you’d think you were in In­dia,” Ran­gaswami said.

By con­trast, the In­dian pres­ence in San Fran­cisco is un­der the radar, but there none­the­less. One out­post is Jai Ho, an In­dian gro­cery store on Fill­more Street in San Fran­cisco, a de­cid­edly low-tech op­er­a­tion run by Rakesh Mar­waha and his wife, Rama.

Jai Ho is an In­dian food em­po­rium, small but com­plete. “We have 40 va­ri­eties of lentils,” Rakesh Mar­waha said. “We stock 30 kinds of flour, all kinds of In­dian pick­les, In­dian snacks, In­dian veg­eta­bles, ev­ery­thing you need to cook In­dian.” They have fresh bread from the Pas­sage to In­dia Bak­ery in Moun­tain View and sweets from a shop in An­ti­och.

“Busi­ness is good,” he said. “We are ex­pand­ing.”

There are a cou­ple of South In­dian restau­rants on hip Va­len­cia Street, and Dosa, one of them, has a branch on Fill­more, in the heart of what used to be the Har­lem of the West.

He­tal Shah and her hus­band opened Au­gust (1) Five, an In­dian restau­rant on Van Ness Av­enue, op­po­site San Fran­cisco City Hall, two years ago. The name is a ref­er­ence to Au­gust 15, 1947, the day In­dia got its in­de­pen­dence.

The cus­tomers are a mix of city work­ers, pa­trons on their way to the Opera and Sym­phony, and young In­di­ans.

He­tal Shah used to work for Google but got tired of the high pres­sure and long hours of the tech world. “I’m pas­sion­ate about this,” she said. “This is my baby — and I’m my own boss.”

Shah came to the United States in 2002, lived in New York, moved to Cal­i­for­nia and fell in love with San Fran­cisco. Many of her young In­dian cus­tomers feel the same way.

They don’t care for the sub­urbs, she said. “In­di­ans grew up in cities. We like the den­sity, the hus­tle and bus­tle.”

East In­di­ans have had a pres­ence in San Fran­cisco for many years. One of the city land­marks is the old Vedanta Tem­ple, an ex­otic struc­ture of domes and cor­nices that has graced the cor­ner of Web­ster and Fil­bert streets in Cow Hol­low for 113 years. It was the first Hindu tem­ple in the Western Hemi­sphere.

“The In­dian pres­ence is all over the city,” Ran­gaswami said. “You just have to look for it.”

Rama Mar­waha and hus­band Rakesh Mar­waha, above, op­er­ate the Jai Ho In­dian Gro­cery, left, on Fill­more Street, which fea­tures 40 kinds of lentils.

Pho­tos by Liz Hafalia / The Chron­i­cle

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.