Houston’s Gandhi District

For those of you who have been there, you know that the entire portion of Houston outside the 610 loop, and between the 6 and 9 hand of the clock, is Asian. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani. Asian. Hillcroft street is where all the South Asian businesses are concentrated, much like Chicago has Devon St.

Businessman Aku Patel watched as two workers installed the orange-trimmed Mahatma Gandhi District signs atop a Harwin Drive street sign.

The owner of Karat 22 Jewelers on Hillcroft Avenue and other members of the South Asian community have waited seven years for these temple-shaped signs to go up in southwest Houston.

“It’s a great feeling,” Patel said proudly as he stood in the drizzling rain and watched Zane Frazar and Ron Mitchell install some of the 31 signs that will decorate street signs along Hillcroft Avenue, Harwin Drive, Fondren Road and Westpark Drive.

Leaders of the India Culture Center and Indian merchants have long wanted to rename Hillcroft Avenue Mahatma Gandhi Avenue, but municipal rules require 75 percent of commercial property owners on a street to sign a petition in support of changing the name before the City Council can consider it.

More than 76,000 people of Indian descent live in the Greater Houston area. [Link]

Two weeks ago I was in Mexico City. A waiter realized my companions and I weren’t Mexican and he said, “Indios como Gandhi, no?”

“Si, como Gandhi,” I thought, silently defeated. Don’t get me wrong. I admire Gandhi greatly. He’s my om boy. But how many Indians have lived on Earth since the dawn of man? And yet the most expedient way to describe us is that we are “como Gandhi.”

Mexico City has a bookstore chain also named after a famous Indian. Any guesses?

And on the way to Chapultapec we passed…a Gandhi statue.

Lesson learned: Mexicans dig Gandhi.

So returning to the topic at hand, the Gandhi District in Houston. Although too late, I have a few alternative suggestions for Mayor Annise Parker. All of these will help diversify “thought association” when it comes to Indians. People have to associate us with something other than just Mr. Gandhi.

1) Curry District/ Curry Town

2) Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar District

3) Jindal District

4) Nahasapeemapetilon District

5) Tom Haverford District

6) Samosa (or Pakora) District

7) Shah Rukh Khan District

8) Sanjay Gupta District

9) The Priest from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom District

10) Doctor District

Merchants also had their own ideas for a district name.

Shri Krishna Center, in honor of the Hindu deity, is a more spiritual name, said Dilip Mulani, who owns Silk India, a shop stuffed with Indian purses, saris and fabrics.

“Gandhi was a very special person,” said Mulani, who added there should be a Gandhi statue in the area.

Some considered naming it after Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, said Shah Moghul, the Pakistani owner of Bismillah restaurant, with its roti rolls, beef samosas and other foods piled in its heated display case. He said the name signifies it’s an Indian area but he will still refer to the area as Hillcroft so he doesn’t have to pull out a map to explain to people its location. [Link]

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The reporter in the clip above couldn’t even pronouce his name correctly.

I guess I shouldn’t complain about this. There is an MLK Blvd in every U.S. City. Maybe one day there will be a Gandhi Blvd too.

But people, we need to seriously get together and find a second hero (preferably pan-South Asian so he has wider appeal)! This is just too much pressure to put on one man’s shoulders.

29 thoughts on “Houston’s Gandhi District

  1. I’m digging “Pakora District” and “The Priest from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom District.” And I’d cause a ruckus if it was called the “Shah Rukh Khan District,” I actually prefer “The Gandhi District” to that.

  2. Yes! I’m glad that someone noticed this. I thought it was kinda cool, actually. It was about time that someone recognized the huge contribution that South Asians make to the Houston economy. South Asian businesses (& Asian businesses) are important.

  3. is buddha the first quasi-historical famous brown person? (mahavira may be earlier, but few outside brownland know him) of course most americans conceive of buddha as east asian.

  4. Why name it after anyone at all? I think it puts too much on any one person to have a naming – and as much as I might appreciate Gandhi’s symbolism, I’m puzzled as to why naming a business district after a freedom fighter has meaning.

    I have been making offhand comments about “going to Hillcroft” for years – and friends from all backgrounds – desi or not – know that I’m picking up desi food or clothing.

    For a reference with a more pan-South Asian reach, why not call it the “choti desh” (chota desh?) – “the little country”? It’s not just Indians who own businesses on Hillcroft / Harwin – there are a lot of businesses owned by Asians outside of the subcontinent, Middle Eastern folks, and Latin Americans. Frankly, that’s what I love about this area – I’m not limited to just my cultural background.

    I’ll stick to “going to Hillcroft,” thank you very much.

  5. Gandhi District makes sense since most of the merchants there are gujaratis and Gandhi was a gujarati.

    PS: Is that wheaten complexioned TV anchor in the beginning of the clip a kashmiri indian (or pakistani) or is she african-american?

  6. Gandhi District makes sense since most of the merchants there are gujaratis and Gandhi was a gujarati.

    THAT! Plus, in general, there’s an odd bond between Mexicans/chicanos and gujaratis, at least in Texas. I can’t explain it, but it’s very heartening.

  7. We wouldn’t need a single statue or memorial of Gandhi’s if we were only a little more – just a tad – willing to engage with his way of thinking and attempted to build on it. All this, naming neighborhoods, installing statues, observing Gandhi Day, Gandhi Hour, and even fighting with an auctioneer over his personal possessions, are acts that reek hypocrisy. For a person who more than once said that monuments and buildings are expressions of our vanity, and that we should always ask ourselves whether our actions benefit the least and the poorest among us, all these tributes are meaningless. For too many Indians/IAs/PIOs claiming to be from the land of Gandhi serves as a matter of hauteur and superciliousness. It is a vacuous affectation of moral superiority with no substance whatsoever. Years ago when Tamil Nadu’s capricious CM Jayalalita was hell bent on draining a wetland near the Adyar River to locate a monument to Ambedkar, I took it upon myself to suggest that instead, the Gandhi Memorial near IIT-Madras be demolished and the Ambedkar Memorial be built upon it. As I expected my suggestion in the local press brought forth reactions from the sincere and insincere ones. While dyed in the wool Gandhians said that a monument to Gandhi is an extravagance, the hypocrites accused me of being an agent provacateur. Similarly the city’s scholars rubbished the idea of building a memorial to Ambedkar when his most significant work the Constitution of India has been followed more in breach, while the numerous “social justice” mavens accused me of being a manuvadi and worse.

  8. Why name it after anyone at all? I think it puts too much on any one person to have a naming – and as much as I might appreciate Gandhi’s symbolism, I’m puzzled as to why naming a business district after a freedom fighter has meaning.

    Naming part of Hillcroft as a Mahatma Gandhi district took seven years. There was some opposition from Persian and other Middle Eastern businesses as they would loose distinct identity to market themselves. Middle Eastern businesses predates Indian subcontinent growth in the area, espcially of Iranian origin. Therefore, only part of Hillcroft is converted into MG district, and rest is not. Sure, some of the shop-keepers from Pakistan grumbled too.

    Now, Gandhi is as pan South Asian it will ever get – the man fasted to death hazaar times for communal harmony. Maybe, Shah Rukh Khan district will beat it some time in future.

    There are two reasons for naming: a) Businesses from South Asian origin in Hillcroft want to grow into something like Chinatown of San Francisco, 5-10 years from now. So you have to distinctly brand yourself – a complete package which eventually even becomes a tourist and mega shopping attraction. b) Houston wants to makeover itself as a world-class cosmopolitan town where international personalities are honored to exemplify diversity. It is good for business.

  9. So returning to the topic at hand, the Gandhi District in Houston. Although too late, I have a few alternative suggestions for Mayor Annise Parker. All of these will help diversify “thought association” when it comes to Indians. People have to associate us with something other than just Mr. Gandhi. 1) Curry District/ Curry Town 2) Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar District 3) Jindal District 4) Nahasapeemapetilon District 5) Tom Haverford District 6) Samosa (or Pakora) District 7) Shah Rukh Khan District 8) Sanjay Gupta District 9) The Priest from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom District 10) Doctor District

    What about Playa de la Sanjaya?

  10. But people, we need to seriously get together and find a second hero (preferably pan-South Asian so he has wider appeal)! This is just too much pressure to put on one man’s shoulders.

    I think a lot of people overlook “the father of Indian unrest” Bal Gangadhar Tilak. His leadership of INC and his ability to organize large scale-protests during pre-Gandhi days set the stage for Gandhi to be succesful. Who knows? if he didn’t have as much of a political opposition from Gopal Krishna Gokhale, South Asia might have obtained self-rule long before Gandhi entered the arena. Actually, I would be glad if people recognized Gokhale too (he was Gandhi and Jinnah’s mentor.. talk about pan-South Asian), but I like Tilak better. Tilak was bold

  11. I really wish people would think critically for just a moment. Especially you, Mr. Tandon. Gandhi is not synonymous with cosmopolitanism.

    Think of what images one might conjure up upon hearing “Gandhi district.” Here are mine: A loin cloth, filth, right-wing hindu nationalism, ABCD’s in gratuitously in love with him, vegetarian diets, an emaciated body, and general disarray. Fun place to spend your afternoon huh!

    If you wanted to market yourself, “Bollywood District” would have worked wonders. “Little India” is charming.

  12. Here are mine: A loin cloth, filth, right-wing hindu nationalism, ABCD’s in gratuitously in love with him, vegetarian diets, an emaciated body, and general disarray.

    Seriously?

    A loin cloth and gamcha – minimal clothing, something like your shorts and T-Shirt or vest! Cool,and sotrendy Filth? Gandhi wanted everyone to clean their own thunder box, no high no low – just clean. Gandhi kept himself and his surroundings scrupulously clean with very little expenditure of resources – natural composting, etc. Way ahead of his times and even ours! Right wing Hindu nationalism? Yeah that’s why lefties win tenure by blaming Hindus/right wing Hindus etc for killing Gandhi! ABCDs gratuitously in love? Everyone loves everything! Vegetarian diets – a la Bryan Adams, Toby McGuire, Tony Gonzalez, Joaquin Phoenix, McCartney…the list goes on – what a crowd puller An emaciated body – Lean and Mean, Gandhi walked about 20-30 miles a day leading 10000s at a time – the most powerful army ever! General disarray – MLK tried Gandhi’s ways and WON! Mandela gave up armed struggle and tried Gandhi’s ways and WON! March on Wanshington, Selma-Montgomery, and many more – all peaceful, mobilizing almost a million – not one act of violence by the marchers. The epitome of order – Something everyone of us shouldlearn from.

    Seriously? Your middle name must start with J

  13. Especially you, Mr. Tandon. Gandhi is not synonymous with cosmopolitanism

    City of Houston thought the way, I put it.

    You can look it up in past and present newspaper articles in Houston Chronicle. This issue has been going for 7 years.

  14. Gandhi is not synonymous with cosmopolitanism.

    I may only presume you’re talking about the magazine and not the word itself. Peaceful resistance movements and leaders the world over have invoked him routinely over the decades. That’s pretty much as cosmopolitan as Jesus, except more verifiable.

    And for your reference, the shiv sena (et al) would sooner create a Jinnah District than a Gandhi one. Their interest lies in the Partition, not the liberation.

    You’re welcome.

  15. Gandhi is not synonymous with cosmopolitanism.

    A true admirer of Gandhi can hate no one! It is almost impossible to be so. As I have written here, time and again, Gandhi is much, much more than India’s struggle for freedom. Gandhi is the true world citizen of the future. Gandhi worked toward freedom for India not as an end in itself, but to so as to provide what he thought would be the best environment for the people of India to live a joyous and responsible life, and also because the way he went about it was, he thought, the ethical way …for means, after all, are everything

  16. A true admirer of Gandhi can hate no one!

    ironic, considering the vitriol you periodically and gratuitously spout against others on this site :) although, i guess you defense would be that you are not a true admirer of gandhi, or that “lefties” (just to take the example on this thread, although pretty much every thread you participate in will provide a new example) don’t count.

  17. Abhi, to be fair, if a group of Mexicans went to India, what famous Mexican (or Amerindian, for that matter) could any Indian associate with them?

  18. I’ve often wondered about this semi-recent trend whereby it’s become vogue to hate on Gandhi, and disparage any admiration for him as an “ABCD” thing.

    Weird. It’s come up on this site alone about a million times, yet no one really remarks on it (or if they have, I’ve missed the discussions, which is equally likely).

  19. People has no idea about the historical development of the “Mahatma Gandhi District Project” in Houston area. If you need it’s time line of development please do some research or contact me.