The COVID-19 tragedy in India, the world’s largest democracy, has me thinking about Indians, or Indian-Americans.
But first — India desperately needs help. Hopefully, the U.S. will do more.
For individuals, this article contains a list of non-profits providing aid.
My first far eastern Indian friend (I had a Native American Indian friend in college), was Ravadi, who ran an Indian restaurant in the 300 block of Chestnut, if I remember right. I ate there often enough to be a regular.
I enjoyed the food, the prices were low, Ravadi was always charming in her colorful sari and cute accent. The thing about accents is this — it means the person speaks more than one language.
The restaurant eventually moved to 40th Street in West Philly.
One great memory before that move was my parents visit during the Bicentennial. My mother was always an adventurous eater, Dad less so. Much less so. But he agreed to try Indian.
I told him I could order something that he would like. So we went to the restaurant and were warmly greeted by Ravadi, who was happy to meet my parents.
Mom ordered tandoori chicken, and I helped Dad with the menu. He looked at it as if it were a list of exotic Inquisition tortures.
“Dad, you like peas, right,?” I said.
He nodded yes. Because there wasn’t a starch he didn’t like.
“And you like hamburger. So here is beef and peas keema. Why not try that?”
He looked at me as if I had sold a family heirloom, but nodded yes.
I ordered, we sat and chatted until the food arrived, along with delicious Indian breads.
Mom dove in.
Dad lightly dipped a teaspoon into the bowl before him, filled with spiced beef and peas. He touched it to his tongue and put the spoon down.
As she was passing by, Ravadi noticed Dad was not eating.
“Is everything OK,?” she asked.
“It’s fine,” Dad lied, “but it’s not my favorite thing.”
“What can I get you,?” she asked.
“A pastrami club,” he said, to the owner of the Indian restaurant.
“One minute,” she said, walking toward the entrance to the restaurant.
She returned in five minutes with a pastrami club — from Grandma Minnie’s, the deli next door. Deli, not Delhi.
Dad’s eyes lit up. I thanked Ravadi profusely while laughing my ass off.
Second Indian friend was Ron Patel, who was the Sunday editor of the Inquirer, the guy charged with getting out what was a massive edition, when I met him. “Patel” is a very common Indian name, like “Smith” for Anglos.
I guess I should put “friends” in quotes, because he was Inquirer and I was Daily News, and we sometimes bumped shoulders. There was a crust of enmity between the two papers, despite some fraternization.
It might have been in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s he ran for president of the Pen & Pencil Club, the after-hours club that is a hangout for journalists and also young people in hospitality — mostly restaurants, who get off work late.
I had been secretary of the club for a couple of decades and Ron let me know he’d like to have his own people on the board, meaning Inquirer people.
I let him know that I had been the secretary for a long time, liked doing the job, and would not step aside.
So he recruited an Inquirer rewrite man to run against me. I knew the guy, Mike Coakley, from around the bar, liked him, and he told me he had been dragooned.
No problem. It was not personal.
People serve as officers on the board without pay. The only benefit of being an officer was free drinks during board meetings. That’s it. Of 10 officers, the president, treasurer and secretary had assigned duties, while the VP and five governors could contribute as much (or as little, usually the case) as they wished.
If you’ve ever been involved with such a club, you know that 10% of the officers do 90% of the work.
For all these reasons, elections were generally uncontested. If you wanted to serve, you got elected. We probably had 500 members at the time and typically no more than 20 people bothered to vote.
In the election I am talking about, Ron went around signing up Inquirer staffers, so they could vote for Coakley.
OK, so I went around signing up Daily News staffers to vote for me because now it was us versus them.
In that election, a modern record of 99 people voted.
I crushed Coakley 50-49 (to his relief).
Ron then said he was going to sue me for packing the vote with News staffers — exactly what he tried to do with Inky staffers.
This was before email, so he sent me a note that he was going to sue me.
Exactly what court was going to hear that case, I asked him?
Well, he settled down and decided he would have to live with me as secretary. Which he did for about three months.
I then resigned to let him have the secretary he wanted. I had proved my point.
I laid out for a few years and then returned as secretary, a job few wanted.
One reason Ron ran for president was because the P&P was in grave financial shape, and at one point announced its intention to close.
Ron did a fantastic job, drumming up support for the club, using his own money and took it off life support and returned it to stability.
Ron died — before his time — in 2000.
He was a journalist, but had a knack for business, which seems to be an Indian specialty, along with engineering, and medicine.
Yes, yes, I know the dangers of stereotyping, but the fact is that many Indians do go into the sciences, and small business here. Indian-Americans stand atop the American income pyramid.
That’s right. They are nonwhites who earn more than whites, in this “racist” nation, and when was the last time you read anything about Indian youth being in trouble?
It seems they go to college, not to gangs, and follow their parents up the ladder of achievement.
We could use more Indians.
And our immigration laws can make it hard, I was told 10 years ago by Vincent Emmanuel, a successful businessman who immigrated from India. Among other things, he once owned four 7-11s, but cut back to one because of the “continuous strain” of robberies.
Hey! Did you hear Joe Biden in 2006 say this?:
“In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”
He got killed by the PC press, even though he was speaking a small truth and trying to be complimentary.
Emmanuel said he wasn’t offended, but it did make him smirk.
I first met him when he approached me for help in trying to get his brother a visa to get to America. His brother Paul was educated and willing, Emmanuel told the government he would assume total financial responsibility for his brother, who had waited years for a green card.
Eventually, Paul did make it to America and had a happy and productive career, until his death.
Emmanuel says the reason Indian-Americans achieve so much is because “we each work 2.3 jobs.”
Another thing is education.
Two of his daughters are medical doctors, the third a product manager for Blue Cross.
That is the epiphany of the American Dream for Emmanuel. He worked 2.3 jobs — or more — so his children would not have to.
Even though he is now, and forever, an American, his heart was hurting when we spoke of the brutal death toll in his former land.
I have furnished the link. Give if you can.