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Day 4 - INDIA IMMIGRANTS

Immigrants from India
a growing community in Quincy

Population in city grew by 1,000 in ’90s

BERT LANE/For The Patriot Ledger
Jayashree Chandrasekhar of Quincy shows a child how to ask for God’s blessing, at the Clifford Marshall School in Quincy Point. On Sunday mornings, parents and children participate in a program that teaches children about Indian culture.

By KAREN ESCHBACHER
The Patriot Ledger

QUINCY

Kalindi Mehta stands in the auditorium of the Clifford Marshall School in Quincy Point, a sea of young faces staring up at her from seats on the floor.

In a friendly but forceful voice, she recites the colors of the rainbow. Mehta pauses after each word so the gaggle of children can yell out the Hindi translation, their sing-songy voices echoing through the large auditorium.

Since December, as many as 80 parents and children have filed into the Marshall School each Sunday morning to participate in the newly created Vaisnava Academy. The program, run by the Vrindavana Preservation Society, teaches children about Indian culture through Hindi lessons, yoga, dance, music and other activities.

The emergence of Vaisnava Academy is evidence of Quincy’s growing Indian community.

The 1990 U.S. Census counted just 143 residents of Indian descent in Quincy. By 2000, that number swelled to 1,127, a 688 percent increase.

Much has been written and said about Quincy’s 9,000 or so Chinese residents, who comprise more than two-thirds of the city’s overall Asian-American population. While the relatively new Indian community is small by comparison, it was the fastest-growing subgroup of Asian-Americans during the previous decade.

Whether that trend will continue depends in large part on the economy. Indians interviewed for this story said those who settle in Quincy are by and large professionals, with many working in information technology. The sputtering economy has hurt the high-tech field, prompting layoffs or making it difficult for new residents to find jobs.

For residents from India who do put down roots here, the draw is easily explained.

“Opportunity,” said Ashok Jakati, 34, who moved to Quincy six years ago from Bangalore, India. “The green bill is always stronger.”

Some, like Jakati, moved to Quincy directly from India. Others have lived elsewhere in Massachusetts or the United States. Regardless of how they arrived, several repeated common themes when asked why they settled in Quincy: cheaper housing than Boston and access to the Red Line, an important service since many newcomers do not have cars when they arrive in America.

Initially, Quincy’s large Asian-American population drew Indian families who were looking for diversity in their new hometown. More recently, the growing base of Indian residents and businesses has itself been an attraction, as those new to the Boston area move where they know people and where a network is in place.

“They are looking for an existing community,” said Keshav Shukla, president of the Vrindavana Preservation Society and a Quincy resident.

More than half of Quincy’s Indian residents are between 25 and 34 years old, according to the 2000 census. A large percentage learned English at a young age. By college, technical classes like math and science are often taught in English.

Most residents rent, with Faxon Commons and Presidential Estates in Quincy Point being popular locations. Only about 10 percent own homes, the census shows. By comparison, 65 percent of Quincy’s Chinese residents are homeowners.

“Most of us we rent because we come on a job visa,” said Shankar Magapu, 34, an information technology specialist who lives in Faxon Commons with his family. “Most of the people are hesitant to buy a house until they make up their mind to stay here.”

Sastry Gadepalli, 37, is a software developer for Fidelity Investments. He has lived in Quincy for five years and owns a Quincy Point home near the Marshall School, with a sweeping view of the shipyard’s Goliath crane.

“I lived here in Quincy and I tested the water and it was good, so I bought a house,” Gadepalli said.

As the Indian population grows, so too do the number of businesses that cater to it.

At New Kashmir Food & Spices in Quincy Center, traditional Indian clothes hang in the Hancock Street store's front window. Inside, movies and CDs with names written in Hindi line bookshelves, including choices like “Nostalgic: Indian Tunes on Piano.” Shoppers can buy curry sauce, a box of Channa Chaat spice mix or ready-to-eat Kharabath, a vegetarian delicacy.

Tarlochan Singh opened the store two years ago.

“We looked in the area and thought, ‘The Indian people are everywhere,’” he said.

Sam’s Variety, which opened under new ownership on Billings Road in North Quincy two years ago, sells Indian spices, vegetables and other products. Only a few minutes away in East Braintree, the South Shore India Market attracts many customers from Quincy. The Quincy Avenue store has been open for more than three years.

On the restaurant scene, Classic India is a relatively new addition to Quincy Center eateries. The restaurant opened last year above the Registry of Motor Vehicles on Hancock Street. It is the second Indian restaurant in Quincy, after Punjab Café on Southern Artery.

“When I came there was only one store in Randolph. Now there are five within five miles,” said Venkat Dayanandan, who works at State Street Corp. in information technology. “When we used to want to buy some food or go to a restaurant, we had to go to Framingham. Now it’s all here.”

The Vrindavana Preservation Society is doing its part to increase cultural offerings and other activities. The group wants to open a cultural center in Quincy to host activities like a school for children, gatherings for seniors, yoga lessons and other spiritual and interfaith gatherings.

Shukla, the president, estimates that a building will cost $500,000. He hopes to raise $100,000 within two years for a down payment and a few months of mortgage payments.

In the meantime, the society played host to three events in Quincy in the past year, attracting between 200 and 400 to each.

The Vaisnava Academy, still in its infancy, is already proving to be a hit. On a recent Sunday morning, parents watched as children practiced the Hindi language, then rolled out brightly colored mats for a yoga lesson.

“We are happy that we got something relative to Indian culture, so they can learn something at least,” said Madhuri Kulkarni, who moved to Quincy 21/2 years ago from Pune, India, and whose 9-year-old son, Nishad, attends the Sunday school.

“Our children, they only speak English,” Shukla said. “Now they are learning the culture, which is one thing we are focusing on.”

Karen Eschbacher may be reached at keschbacher@ledger.com.

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