Finding a Mini India outside India is always a thrill. New Jersey, US, is an immigrant base that has brought together Indians from different parts of India, and offers a fascinating mix of India in terms of cuisine, clothes and lifestyle. Indeed, Jersey City is a true American melting pot, with over 90 different nationalities represented. For starters, all this translates into amazingly cheap and delicious dining options. It has come a long way from the small grocery store and video shop outpost that residents remember from the 1980s. Now the Indian section of Oak Tree Road stretches for about three kilometers and boasts a designer clothing mall with brands like Ritu Beri’s. Patrons of all races and skin colours shop for bangles and halal
You will be momentarily transported to the bylanes of Kolkata and Jaipur— women clad in vibrant saris, intoxicating scents of cardamom and coriander wafting through the air. One of Jersey City’s greatest cultural gems, Little India, offers some of the best Indian food in the NYC metro area. Feast on delectable dishes with exotic flavors, then wonder through the jewellery stores where you can buy pure 18K gold jewellery that will make you feel like royalty. Roam through the spice markets, collect antique Indian artifacts, take a bollywood dance class or have an ayurvedic consultation.
Kumar Balani publishes Biz India magazine, based in nearby East Brunswick, which details success stories of Indian business people in the United States and dishes out investment advice. When pitching to advertisers, Mr Balani has a powerful set of figures behind him. First, he says that the Indian population in New Jersey grew from 170,000 in 2000 to about 270,000 in 2007, according to his research. Also, according to the Indian American Center for Political Awareness, almost 40 percent of all Indians in the US have a master’s, doctorate or other professional degree (five times the national average) and a 2003 study by Merrill Lynch found that one in every 26 Indians in the United States is a millionaire. When he relates these figures to non-Indian advertisers, Balani says that 99 percent of them respond, ‘Wow! Really?’ So we ask them, ‘Is this a market you want to get into?’ His business is growing as more advertisers answer “yes”—from 5,000 copies in the paper’s first run in 2002 to 30,000 now.
New Jersey offers us a window into the various aspects of Indianisation of America, ranging from the finesse in software brought in by the techies, the cricket madness of some of the young to the culinary delights of tikka and
The Indian community has brought in a wealth of diversity to New Jersey. The community has several prominent doctors as well as a large number of professionals in the information technology and finance industries. The increased global trade between the US and India has been partly responsible for the rapid growth of the Indian community in Edison. Indian-centric businesses are flourishing, and not just the dosa and chicken tikka restaurants. You can buy cricket bats, learn Bollywood dancing and try on wedding saris within a 48-km radius. Big Indian companies like Infosys, Birlasoft and Ranbaxy have offices in the area, a sign of prosperity that is not immediately apparent on Oak Tree Road.
Now, New Jersey residents can play cricket year-round in New Jersey. Cricket products are sold online and out of stores in the area. The cricket league for the entire state of New Jersey started in 1994 with 32 teams and has grown to 44. Higher sponsorships have attracted better players, and with support from the city authorities, players now have access to a general purpose field large enough to play the game properly, instead of the baseball fields used earlier.
With so many South Asians around, interest in cricket is high and the area has movie theatres that show international matches. However, it is a challenge to get average Americans interested in the game. Though they don’t usually watch the matches, non-Indians walking past when a game is on do stop to look and then fire some questions. It’s difficult for Americans to grasp how six to seven hours are dedicated to the game. Americans would surely shake their heads if they came to know about the five-day matches!
Then there are numerous Hindu temples where volunteers are familiar with answering lots of questions. European-Americans ask about Hinduism during the annual fundraiser for local hospitals and during the Diwali feast, when temple members invite their non-Hindu friends. The fundraiser, in which volunteers pledge to walk a certain distance in exchange for donations, “allows them and the community to explore one another and understand one another,” says Siddharth Dubal, a second-generation Indian American and a lawyer.
If you are fortunate enough to be in NJ for an Indian Festival you are really in for a treat. During Navratri over 15,000 come out to celebrate. The nights are filled with music, dancing and singing, it is a cultural experience not to be missed.
Other wonderful festivals include Diwali, with fireworks on the avenue and colorful treats. For the Hindu New Year pay a visit to the Govinda Center and you will find an exhibition of foods.
New Jersey was one of the original 13 American states, and one of its residents, Francis Hopkinson, designed the first U.S. flag, with 13 stars and stripes. The state is the home of Princeton and Rutgers universities, the Newark International Airport, and the entertainment center of Atlantic City.
© Global Indian Diaspora — GOPIO Making an Impact | Published by: India Empire Publications.