Introducing an all-new monthly series in Seniors Today magazine – Communities. We kick it off with Minoo Shah writing on the very enterprising Gujjus, err, Gujaratis.
Those elite intellectuals who are reading this article with forehead furrowed and brows raised – phooey to you! What world are you living in? Are you even an Indian? Do you know Gujaratis? Because if the answer is yes, no or maybe to the above then here are a few home truths that should clear the fog which I see billowing over your heads.
A Gujju is genetically fostered from the Western region of Gujarat and has wandered all over the globe and beyond with a few priorities. Foremost, multiplying wealth and raas-garba with food not too close behind.
This native inhabiting the land of milk and honey comes in many forms and shapes. The one picked by scholars is the roly-poly bald-headed pot-bellied male sans an inch of sophistication. Why? Because if you come across this species he probably owns about 20 motels, 10 gas stations and has helped migrate an entire village to the USA.
The Student Visa Start
Let’s look into some of the yet-to-be-released Wikipedia files.
Take for instance Jethabhai from Karamsad, Gujarat, India who migrated on a student visa to USA in 1972. Jetha as fondly known to his Indian classmates at Trenton State College shared a 2-bedroom apartment with 3 other classmates. Duties were divided so it fell upon Jetha to cook. He did this with great zest and served varying varieties of khichdi and ‘ringan-bataka nu shak’ (translated for those whose culinary focus erstwhile has been ‘chhole’ is an eggplant potato curry). Well, Jetha with great aplomb took his lunch (he was a vegetarian, you see) to the cafeteria and would eat it with his fingers with nary a care for the American eyes staring him down. He was typecast as a vulgar, mannerless migrant and treated as such even by other fellow Indians. When he was not quite so politely asked to leave campus within 2 semesters, Jetha not to be outwitted took the rest of his tuition money (students on I-30 visa status had financial aid for a year’s worth of tuition deposited into their free checking account) and made a beeline for Hoboken, NJ. Hoboken, in the 70s was a Gujju’s mecca. It boasted of dilapidated apartment complexes run by slumlords regularly seen on the 1st day of the month to collect rent. This fit the Gujju mindset fine. There was no one within miles to see them in their boxers on the balcony chewing ‘daatan’ (toothbrush, if you will) while yelling to the balcony 2 stories below, ‘ala, dukaan ma thi thodu adu mara matey bi laavjey’ (bring some ginger for me when you go shopping).
Jetha sought out Popat who hailed from Kadi (known to his distant uncle’s in laws partners) and joined his 4 roommates in their studio apartment. Such was life then that while 2 worked nightshirts the other 2 used the beds and vice versa. Money was pooled and groceries bought with the priority that each one would be able to send at least $100 home every month. Jetha’s simpleton enterprising mentality led him to befriend the slumlord goon and he soon became the apartment manager himself. He would collect the rent from everyone a week ahead of time. He would use that money to stock up on essentials and sell them to the apartment dwellers to save them trips (Jetha did not work, he lived rent free, cooked for his roommates and ran a business).
In 6 months along with his tuition money, Jetha had saved up about $10,000. He used this as down payment to buy the 10-unit apartment complex with a loan from the slumlord. How does this story end? Well, Hoboken, NJ is prime real estate in the USA now and Jetha owns 20% of the commercial shopping strips there. Senators and Congressmen alike now address him as Shri Jethabhai Patel. He still eats khichdi and shak with his hands and the only noticeable change is he speaks Gujrati interspersed with English. In that, while addressing Governor Chris Christie at a garba-raas function, Jetha said, “Hello Christiebhai, everything ok ne? Bring your ‘baidi’ next time and we will ‘rape’ her in a sari.” Last heard, Christie is not to be seen in Hoboken, he seeked the safer shark-infested pastures of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Dazzling With Diamonds
Now let’s move on down South to California and the Shahs, not to be confused with the Shahs of Sunset Blvd, an Iranian reality show based in Los Angeles (this clarification is for the common American on the street, still bowled over by the different races cluttering their land stolen from – you got it, Indians!). Back to the task at hand, this sect of the Gujju community is well known for their shrewd and 1,001 ways of multiplying wealth with other people’s money. And, savvy reader that you are on the other side of the hemisphere – Enter! the diamond runners of Antwerp/Palanpore. With your nose turned up you query in a very Britty accent (cannot resist adding a cliché at this point ‘saaley goray chale gaye bhokatey kuttey chhod gaye’): ‘Now, now what is this Antwerp/Palanpore conundrum?’ To those not well versed in this vegan, eat before sunset, donning a yellow tikka on your forehead species, these are young Jain boys in their teens who apprentice for distant uncles in Antwerp (Antwerp, Amsterdam is the holy land for diamond merchants hailing from Palanpore). They consign about a $1 million worth of loose diamonds to different retailers all over USA but their Wall Street is LA. You ask why? My man, LA is just an acronym for Hollywood where bling is King.
Exploiting Hollywood’s addiction of all addictions that tops Coke and Ecstasy, this community dangled DIAMONDS and inveigled themselves into partnerships at major Production Houses and Studios. You don’t believe me? Have you seen La La Land – it’s a Bollywood musical with nasal sounding Jewish actors. Word has it that Priyanka Chopra marrying Nick Jonas was an arranged affair by these power monger Shah’s who want to slowly control the music industry. Why do you think the Ambanis inter marry into Jain families? How do you think every 10th production in Hollywood is ‘Annapurna’ production?
Right Up To The Top
Fast forward to the clear and present danger. The second generation with the right accent but protégées none the less have come of age with degrees from Ivy Leagues and as privileged as the WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants – suffice it for now) who fund those colleges. Even the White House is now infested with Gujjus and Governor Christie is running for dear life, crying: ‘Are there no more safe havens in USA?’ The halls are teeming with a Mehta here, a Parikh there, and a Shah and Patel everywhere. Like locusts they have swarmed Pennsylvania Avenue, and many other metropolitan cities. Politics notwithstanding, the freshest arrivals are the millennial techies from Surat and Rajkot who run the user interface for major banks and financial centres. These H1B 3 year contract visa holders (otherwise known to you as baap lakh chhappan hajaar), have made pav vada and vodka noodles the talk of Michelin 3 restaurants.
Call them Gujjus, call them names but USA acknowledges that when Spacex explores the new frontiers there will be a Jetha somewhere with a bowl of khichdi and shak, a smile, a greeting of ‘halo re halo!’ and interplanetary beings dancing to the tune of ‘dholi taro dhol baajey, dhol baajey, dhol… ke dhum dhum baajey dhol.’