Vantage point

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jackson Heights and Edison

I was told Jackson Heights in Queens was the Indians' version of Chinatown. Could not agree more. And nothing says "Indian" more than hilarious signs at shop entrances. You will appreciate me saying this, especially since I am from Pune, a city that has made shop sign composition an art form. Naturally I was tickled all sorts of pink when I saw this -

No foods (sic)... OK. No drinks... fine. But what could have possibly possessed the shopkeeper to write "no kulfi". It is likely that the sign just forbade food and drinks, but a lot of people(named either Narsimha or Dick Cheney) would walk in with kulfi and when stopped, argue that a kulfi is neither a food nor a drink. So our meticulous shopkeeper has now removed all ambiguity.

The other desitown I visited was Edison in New Jersey. Actually it is not so much desitown as it is gujjutown. The gujju experience started right in the NJ Transit train, with the two people seated opposite me talking in Gujarati and munching on gathiya. Edison itself really is Gujju beyond belief. A lot of the shop signs are in Gujarti, and we even saw several posters for a play called "Ba E Maari Boundary".

The visit to Edison (and even Jackson Heights) was not for pleasure but for engagement shopping. Every shop that we went to, my fiancee, who would usually have to be tortured to admit her Gujju origins, would start off in the language in the hope for discounts. And it worked too. What was annoying and amusing for me was that subsequently the shopkeepers would start talking to me in Gujarati too. In one shop I finally told them I was not Gujarati. The shopkeeper says,

"You are not Gujarati?"


"And she is?"


"What are you then?"


"And you are getting engaged?"


"Hmmm".... he said with a barely concealed expression of disapproval and disappointment. I debated whether I should ask him if he would support a decree against aapro dikris marrying non-Gujaratis. But I reckoned the joke would fly right over his head.

After spending a couple of hours in Edison shops... each and every one seemed to be run by a Gujarati... my fiancee and I finally decided to get over the experience by walking into a distinctly Pakistani restaurant and having nothing but cow meat.