September 5, 2010 | Hindi
74th Street, Queens
A field trip to Little India.
Yesterday I went to Little India in Jackson Heights. My primary destination: 74th Street, packed with shops and restaurants that cater to the local South Asian community.
Jackson Heights is a quick subway ride from Manhattan, but this particular block feels (sorry, triteness imminent here) like another world.
For sure there is plenty of evidence of New Yorkiness—traffic, crowds, etc.—but there are also Hindi and Bengali signs, sari-wearing women, store windows filled with elaborate gold jewelry, the smells of Indian cuisine, and far less beige Gap and Banana Republic clothing than you see in many New York neighborhoods.
Since beginning this language project last year, I have walked down this street several times, as it is in the midst of a spectacularly multilingual community. It would be nice if I could make a brilliant cultural observation here, but one of the first things that struck me on this particular day was that, as always, passing by the restaurants on this block makes me very hungry.
Although I had eaten right before I left home, by the time I reached the windows of Delhi Palace—mere minutes after exiting the subway station—my stomach was growling.
In fact, editing this entry is making it grumble again; I love Indian food. But I was not in Queens to eat.
I kept walking.
And then promptly confronted the same psychological obstacle that affected me when I first went to, say, the Russian community of Brighton Beach, or the Arab community of Bay Ridge: as I contemplated actually entering a store, an attack of shyness overcame me. I do not consider myself a shy person, at all, but walking into a store in a tightly knit ethnic community requires more of my courage than I need, say, to walk down an unfamiliar sidewalk. Fortunately, I sucked it up.
In my previous visits, I had noticed a store called Golden Music, but had never gone inside. This time I did. I roamed around and looked at DVD cases containing films made in faraway places. I saw Hindi. I saw Bengali. I am pretty sure I saw Urdu, too.
Movies for Sale
This Is Shad of Golden Music
At Bhutala Emporium, on the other side of the street, you can buy anything from books and bracelets to sandalwood powder and furniture. In the language section, I found a book called Teach Yourself Hindi, by Mohini Rao. It was full of heavy-duty grammatical explanations—my favorite!—so I decided I had to have it.
Some Hindi Books Available at Bhutala
The book came with cassette tapes, so I will have to dig a cassette player out of storage if I want to play them. I found the subtitle enticing: “A Unique and Authentic Language Learning Kit from the Country’s Leading Publishing House” (the country being India, and the publisher being Hind Pocket Books).
While walking around 74th Street, I went into multiple stores selling saris. These shops were stunning visually, with vivid colors everywhere, but as someone who can barely bring herself to wear a skirt, I remain mystified by the concept of a sari. It seems to me it would be very difficult to do a cherry drop in one.
India Sari Palace
Shopping for Saris
And then I did one of my favorite things, which is to go into a New York food store—in this case, Patel Brothers—selling food items I can’t recognize. I love that.
Not Sure What This Is
This I Recognize
Canned Goods at Patel Brothers
Dabur Red Toothpaste Has 13 Active Ayurvedic Ingredients
Rice for Sale
Much More Rice for Sale
Exploring the local grocery made me hungrier. Ultimately I couldn’t resist temptation: I ended up in a restaurant, Dera, on nearby Broadway.
Dera Restaurant/Shaheen Sweets
Across the top of the menu were written the words “Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepali.” A place called Shaheen Sweets shared the restaurant’s physical space; I wasn’t clear on whether they were technically the same restaurant or two different businesses.
In any case, I did what I often do when I am extremely hungry: start with dessert. I ordered a square of a pastryish substance that I promptly forgot the name of.
While waiting for it to be delivered to my table, I went into the bathroom. There I crossed paths with an energetic roach, which was ascending the wall over the sink. This encounter displeased me; roaches are not stimulating to the appetite.
Nonetheless: I returned to the table, found my dessert waiting for me, considered the roach, and ate the dessert anyway. I was ravenous. I then considered the wisdom of ordering a full meal and decided wisdom be damned. I ordered chicken tikka (boneless), which turned out to be delicious.
The meal, with tea, was just $9. After paying, I went and caught a number 7 train full of happy people coming from the U.S. Open. I studied Hindi all the way back to Manhattan.