Passion Project: IndyaVids


Since I can’t seem to get enough of social in my day job, I have joined forces with founder/CEO of the popular Bollywood Entertainment website DesiYou. Ash Kumra and I are working together to launch a new user generated video website. IndyaVids will be a site dedicated to help ALL PEOPLE learn how to bring what they love about the Indian Culture into their own lives. This could be trying to cook their favorite Indian dish from their local Indian restaurant, or practice and fine tune their Yoga moves. The site will host videos that will help connect users with others that want to share their expertise in several areas that are rooted to the South Asian Diaspora.

We have come a long way and on February 28, 2011 IndyaVids will be presenting our business plan at the 2nd annual Irvine Entrepreneur Forum. I will personally present our plan….wish me luck! You can learn more about the competition here: http://bit.ly/fWo0lk

Below is what is motivating me to take on this project.  While I will always share updates on my personal handle’s, you can also follow our progress here from our office sites:

Web: www.indyavids.com
Twitter:  IndyaVids http://bit.ly/hs1OT7
Facebook:  IndyaVids Fans http://on.fb.me/dMa4rZ

I call this a passion project because I have always wanted to build a company that could bring to two cultural worlds together. My American identity (I was born in the US) with my Indian heritage.

During my senior year at UCLA, my parents thought it was a good idea to take to me India. I had not been since I was child, and I was threatening (that’s how they took it) to go on my own after I graduated. Fearful, that all the people in India would see that I have “America” written all over me and would thus somehow take advantage of me, my mom decided to plan a trip.

The three of us went to New Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Beas, and Jaipur. I have plenty of stories about this memorable trip, but the one thing that really mattered was the choice I made to enter the corporate world and to no longer pursue of my PhD in Sociology. My desire to research the South Asian diaspora was strong, but I realized that now was not the time for me to pursue this goal. The choice was difficult and complicated. Whatever my reasons I promised myself that I would some how return to my goal of understanding and promoting the South Asian Diaspora. Through this I would help to build a bridge between people from different backgrounds.

I had first met Ash Kumra from a mutual friend. We met in 2010 during the NBA playoffs and bonded over beer and chicken wings. He told me about his company DesiYou and I was really excited to meet an entrepreneur that was trying to marry the South Asian culture with a profitable business (without exploited the culture). We both loved our work and loved our heritage.

After several conversations over the next few months Ash asked me to join his team and help launch this company. I am confident that we will build some that people will enjoy and benefit from. So get your camera’s ready, and get your Yoga pants on…..it’s time for you to make your videos and get them on IndyaVids!

Little India


flag-india-us-1_T3tRy_16298Some time ago, I wrote an essay for a Sociology course at UCLA.  It was a part of my senior thesis, and I am excited to share some of it now.  I have done my best to update some of the data.  Enjoy!

New York has Jackson Heights, Chicago has Devon Street, and Los Angeles has Pioneer Boulevard.  “Little India” towns seem to be popping up all over the United States.  This is due to the increase of the South Asian population and the demand of their material culture such as mehndi, cuisine, jewelry, movies, music and clothing.  Ethnic enclaves like “Little India” often emerge as a result of the demand of the growing immigrants from a particular country.  It also seems that non-South Asians are flocking to these little towns in surprising numbers.  They are opening Dhaba’s (small restaurants), sari boutiques, jewelry shops, and grocery stores.  This is not to say that the only entrepreneurship that South Asians are involved in are as small business owners, but rather this is the best way to show how a niche is created for business opportunities when communities migrate to a new country.  I have often wondered as to why and how such places have become popular and what are the resulting obstacles that a growing ethnic minority will face.  Focusing on “Little India” along Pioneer Boulevard in the City of Artesia many questions arise.  Yet before the questions are presented to you, there is a great deal of background to cover.

The City of Artesia was a farming area as a portion of Rancho Los Coyotes Spanish land grant.  The city was founded in 1875 and during the 1920’s was converted into dairy lands.  Soon the city not only became a place for milk but a place for real estate.  By the 1950’s land prices plummeted and farmers moved out.  The remaining farmers wanted to avoid this forced migration by becoming incorporated to nearby Dairy Valley in which later became the City of Cerritos, but their attempts were unsuccessful and even they had to move out.  Officially incorporated on May 19, 1959 the City of Artesia had a measurable area in square miles of 2 had approximately 9,500 residents.  During the 1970’s the city began absorbing a large numbers of Portuguese and was struggling with a very meager tax base.  During the 1980’s many other ethnic groups migrated from South Asia, China, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines1.

When I originally did my research in 199 the city had a population of 15, 464 people which breaks down to 40% Latino, 42% white, 15% Asian and 3% in the other category.  With an operating budget of about $12 million the city struggled to maintain its infrastructure.  The median household income is at about $36, 383.  There are 279 stores in Artesia and they generate $161 million in annual sales1.

Selected Statistics from the 2002 Economic Census
2002 Economic Sectors

2002 NAICS sector

Number of
establishments

Sales,
shipments,
receipts

($1,000)

Annual
payroll

($1,000)

Number of
employees

31-33 Manufacturing

29

196,381

22,990

620

more »
42 Wholesale trade

38

D

D

b

more »
44-45 Retail trade

104

170,301

21,647

840

more »
51 Information

5

N

1,229

33

more »
53 Real estate & rental & leasing

34

19,181

4,633

152

more »
54 Professional, scientific, & technical services

36

11,618

3,945

194

more »
56 Administrative & support & waste management & remediation service

24

12,442

4,368

193

more »
61 Educational services

7

2,541

952

60

more »
62 Health care & social assistance

65

49,396

18,856

827

more »
71 Arts, entertainment, & recreation

2

D

D

a

more »
72 Accommodation & food services

67

38,048

9,813

789

more »
81 Other services (except public administration)

47

15,167

3,818

153

more »

As more and more professional South Asians began to move to nearby Cerritos there began the first demand on South Asian goods.  Many believe that “Little India” first began back in 1971 when Balkishan Lahoti (who lived in Cerritos) began selling spices and food out of a garage in Artesia2.  He has now opened up a business in the City of Bellflower, but many other South Asians have come and set up shops along Pioneer Boulevard.  In 1999 there was close to 120 (out of the 279 total Artesia businesses) South Asian businesses along the strip and still growing.  Since then several new complexes have been built perpendicular to the strip, which should have added another 20 shops.  The rate at which the strip is growing is astounding and its popularity is even more so.  Thus, has lead to one of the issues that have seemed to arise due to the growth.  Glenn Seade, a non-South Asian business owner complained that “The parking hassles have led to a 20% drop in business at Martell’s Cleaners near 186th…these were good customers who plainly came up to us and said, ‘ we cannot fight the parking.'” They feel that the city has approved to many building permits to business along the strip and has thus caused the shortage of available parking.  Martell’s has since move out to another location.  According to an LA Times article, City Manager Paul J. Philips said he believes “…the retailers are exaggerating the area’s parking problems…the city approved a out 10 business permits in Little India last year, but most of the applicants were seeking to replace businesses that had moved2”.  Here we can begin to understand why the issue of parking becomes very complex.  Other ethnic groups that migrated to Artesia, such as the Portuguese, were the first to open their businesses.  Now, they are slowly moving away because Pioneer Boulevard no longer holds any lucrative prospects.  They are struggling to find other means of making ends meet.  The other aspect of this is that many of the non-South Asian business owners live in Artesia, but the South Asian businesspersons live in the more upscale Cerritos area.

South Asians have created a market in the area that will cater to particular customers looking for particular goods.  So the businesses that were once along the strip are no longer making money.  They have seen lower foot traffic and thus a decrease in sales.  The people that come are looking for goods and services related to the South Asian community.  Although many residents welcome the businesses due the incredible amount of tax revenues they generate for the city, there is a sense of animosity.  Ramesh Mahajan, former president of the Little India Chamber of Commerce feels that the City Council treats the business owners in Little India are “…not one of them…” and is very biased.  Mahajan feels that the city “…would have been a ghetto if Indians didn’t open businesses there2”.  Several of the shopping complexes have parking lots that offer very limited parking, but if you cannot park there then your best bet is parallel parking along the street.  Street parking is limited two hours.  The Chamber of Commerce would like to make diagonal parking available as opposed to the parallel parking.  The city is not very excited about this idea and has suggested a parking structure be built and customers be bussed into to the area.  But Rakesh Kapoor, a travel agent, feels this is a bad idea because “…people buy jewelry and large sacks of rice and four, and they are not going to want to walk long distances to their cars”2.  So the debate continues, but both sides are attempting to find an agreeable solution.  The problem cannot be helped.  There is a demand in the area for the shops and the shops attract people come here from all over Southern California.  These demands are not limited to just food, clothing and jewelry, rather it has found other ways of bringing in other businesses that would cater to the South Asian community.

Several community organizations have found home in Little India.  For example the South Asian Network (SAN) operates along the strip.  They hold seminars on health; immigration and even offer language classes.  Several immigration attorneys have their offices along the strip and help to serve South Asians wishing to gain citizenship.  State Bank of India has come to Pioneer to meet banking needs and offers more hegemony to the area.  FIA (Federation of India Association) has even brought India’s Independence Day Celebrations to Artesia.  Originally they were held near USC, but now they feel that Artesia has become an icon for the South Asian community.  The local businesses had booths at the festival, which in turn added to their business and popularity of Little India within the South Asian community.  Now rather than go to shops in Anaheim, Diamond Bar or Buena Park, most South Asians come to the Artesia shops.  The geographic location has developed a reputation for being the heart of the South Asian Community in Southern California.

In some years there has been a parade along the strip, well sort of.  People gathered along the street with umbrellas and lawn chairs expecting elaborately decorated floats dedicated to India’s Independence Day, but the spectators have often been disappointed.  The parade consisted of a few cars and some people sitting in them and waiving.  At the Little India Chamber of Commerce meeting on June 3, 1998 they discussed the parade.  Many of the business owners were embarrassed, and criticized the parade organizers.  They are now planning to hire professional float makers and plan to escalate the amount of time and money to develop an annual Independence Day Parade along Pioneer Boulevard.  This plan has yet to be realized.

The name “Little India” has yet to be made official.  The Little India Chamber of Commerce would like a sign of the 405 and 91 freeways to direct drivers to the area.  The Chamber, along with many other businesses feels that such a sign would increase their business.  However, the city feels otherwise.  They believe that since Artesia residents consist mainly of Latinos, it would be misleading the public.  Such a sign would not be representative of the city’s demography.  City Manager Paul Philips and the council “…felt that if they recognized one group they should recognized them all, and that’s just not realistic”3. Yet the businesses on the strip perceive things differently.  They are would not mind if the sign included other ethnic groups, they just want to direct potential customers into the area.  They feel that there are other reasons why.  On of the owners of Books and Bits felt that the city is “…a little biased to this community…” and would like to see the situation improved.  Although she is Iranian and not South Asian, she believes that the city is having a difficult time with such issues because of their slight prejudice with the South Asian community.  Although “…it’s a very, very critical part of our local economy, “ says Paul Philips but the city still has a hard time with the issues3.

Combined with the parking issue one cannot help but to think about the issues in the other low-income communities.  For example, the case of Korean shop owners in African-American neighborhoods.  It is important to clarify now that what is happening in Artesia if very unique and is not the same as Korean shop owners in the inner city.  This is because of the fact that the South Asian businesses and literally transforming the city physically and cutlturally.  They have not only become a part of the economics of the area but they have become a large part of the social and cultural aspects as well.  This is because many of the owners live within a ten-mile radius.  Particularly in the neighboring City of Cerritos, South Asian business owners are involved in the community and politics.  This means that they are constantly using public facilities, contributing to other businesses and their children are attending the local schools.  South Asians have become a large part of the social and economic aspects of the area.  Although they do not live in Artesia, the residents are considered “a part of the neighborhood.”

South Asian business that have come are not just a part of the economical and cultural part of the local area, but has become a tourist attraction for all of Southern California.  Sumita Batra, marketing manager for Ziba beauty center has attracted not only South Asians but also non-South Asians and has become responsible for the mehndi on Madonna’s hands.  Hollywood producer Ilene Staple, pop singer Gwen Stephanie and super model Naiombi Campbell have all come to visit and even more so added to the popularity.  Little India has gone from a man selling spices out of a garage to an economical and social powerhouse.  Its success is mainly due to efforts made in the last couple of years.  There is still a more progress and issues to arise and to be resolved. The strip is growing and business are doing well.  But the popularity with the American community may be a trend.  If that is true then the popularity could just be temporary and the economic boom the area is experiences could be temporary.  This means that South Asians are going to have to develop a discourse as to how the relationships with the non-South Asians will continue.  I do not believe that there is enough demand from the growing South Asian population to support the booming number of business in Artesia.  Thus, I would anticipate a market correction in the area.

1Cox, John. Community Profile/ArtesiaLos Angeles Times 20 December 1996: pg. B-2

2 Canalis, John. Success of ‘Little India’ Puts Parking at a Premium, Merchants Say.

Los Angeles Times 19 January 1995: pg. J-3

3 Hamilton, Denise India Inc. Los Angeles Times 20 July 1997: pg. D-1

Social Action


gandhiOne of the great results of mobilizing a community of any kind is its ability to take action towards a specific goal.  Most recently we saw it with the campaign to elect President Barak Obama.  However, social action has been a part of civilization for ages.  I have always been fascinated by India’s Independence movement.  It is not only rich in content about the social world, but rich in how a community can mobilize to take action.  Gandhi’s campaign not only inspired people into action, but it was a quest for something so much more than independence.  Our actions are reflection of who we are, and who we are is shaped by our actions.

When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi died, his possessions consisted of two pieces of homespun cloth, one pair of spectacles and his pocket watch.  He came as close as possible to obtaining his goal of facing death as a zero.  It is commonly noted by many that this simple bald headed man single handedly pushed the British out of India. Gandhi brought down an empire, suspended the independence movement and ended civil war without owning any lands and holding any public office. Ahimsa and Satyagraha were more that just socio-political reform, rather, they were a way of life, they were his religion, and they were the quest for truth.  For Gandhi social reform and his spiritual beliefs were one in the same.  It was the intersection of the larger social world and an individual’s everyday living habits.

To Gandhi India was not just a place but an idea.  The idea being that the nation-state should be dedicated to the quest for Truth.  The every day norms, mores, daily rituals would be dedicated to the search for Truth.  Gandhi’s idea also was such that the quest would be interwoven with social action.  Taking action is very important.  I want to note here that Gandhi never advocated that people do nothing in the face of adversity.  Many misunderstand non-violence, with non-action.  Gandhi was very clear, that every society and every community must not only take action, but take action that was in the pursuit of Truth.  Action and Truth would work together rather than existing separately.  The society would not have the government, the individual, and religion existing as separate entities rather; the nation would be a place where the three would be constantly interacting in an intricate dialogue with each other.  For Gandhi, this idea would also dictate his personal life.  The quest for Truth not only takes place in the larger social schema but in the every day lives of all people.

His belief comes from the Hindu teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita.  An important concept of the Gita is DharmaDharma is the playing field in which all living beings play out their destiny.  Through Dharma the individual makes any series of decisions that will determine the outcome of their soul in the eyes of Truth, or God.  The complex concept of Dharma also includes the individual’s duty, religion, law, and most importantly one’s life path.  The heuristic conception of Truth is the most important aspect of Gandhi.  He derives his understanding of Truth and Dharma through his thorough study of the Bhagavad-Gita, the story of the battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravs.  Although many literal interpretations exist of the Gita, I will take a more metaphorical interpretation.  The battle that took place was on the field of Dharma; it was a struggle for Truth.  The lessons of the Gita state that the outcome to one’s actions do not matter, rather, it is the means in which one follows the path to Truth that holds significance.  In the Gita when Arjuna is about to go into battle he decides to stop because he does wish to fight because he realizes that he would be killing members of his own family.  His chariot driver and friend, who happened to be the Lord Krishna, begins to give Arjuna guidance.  Krishna says that he did not exist, neither did neither Arjuna or all the kings they were fighting against.  He continues by stating that life and death really do not exist.  For the soul there is never birth and there is never death.  Life and death are just aspects of the physical world, but the soul is much larger and grander than the physical body.  The soul acquires and discards bodies the way a person would with clothing.  The lines of the Gita that must have truly impacted Gandhi is when Krishna states that as a person may discard their own garments so will the soul and a self-realized soul is not bewildered by these changes.  Therefore, if Arjuna kills these people their bodies will be discarded, but their souls will endure.  As a ksatriya it is Arjuna’s duty to be on the battlefield.  We all have to die some day and it is better to day as a seer of truth rather than one who runs from their duty. Gandhi also believed that Dharma, was also Truth because Truth could only be found through it and the means in which one searched for Truth is the most important aspect of obtaining Truth. Thus, Gandhi believed that India’s quest for Independence was the battlefield that he had to fight upon. Just like Arjuna had a duty to fight, Gandhi had a quest for justice and for Truth.  Through self-realization and the freedom movement of India would not only undergo its quest of institutional Independence, but its quest for Truth.  The important aspect of the quest was that India could have eventually gained independence without Gandhi, but the means at which it did would greatly define India’s future.

The means by which Gandhi would fight for reform and self-realization was Ahimsa, the Hindu word meaning without violence. More than social reform Gandhi thought of it as a way of life.  For example, Gandhi wished to become free from desires, such as sexual desires.  He wanted to overcome sexual desires that by controlling it, and this was a very difficult thing for anyone to do.  Not only did it affect his wife but it also affected his marriage.  Brahmacharia was one of the fundamental lifestyle changes that Gandhi underwent through his path of self-realization.  For Gandhi there was an intricate relationship between his experiments with brahmacharia and his development of the nation.  When one is able to control one’s sexual desires, then one will be able to think and see the world clearly and be a seer of truth.  This also means that the nation in Gandhi’s eyes would be stable because it has achieved control over its desires.

The Indian mores, norms, and material cultural have been greatly influenced by the people relationship with nature and the surrounding physical environment. The belief system is built on the premise that humanity is a part of Nature, as opposed to the ideology that Nature has been created so that humanity could manipulate and control it.  Being a product of a social system that was so strongly interacting with nature, Gandhi’s belief system was greatly influenced by his relationship with Nature.  Thus, Gandhi’s use of the Ashram was so that the search of justice was also part of the pursuit of Truth.  The Ashram allowed the people to interact with nature and live harmoniously so that they would become free from the temptations of material wealth, meat eating, and sexual desires.  Here Gandhi took the traditional way of life as taught by Hindu discourse and fused it into his contemporary life and time.  Here was where Gandhi ran his newspapers, took a stand on untouchability, spun cotton.  The Ashram was an experimental society, in which the very fabric of the social system was committed to finding Truth.  It was almost as if Gandhi founded his own country free from industrialization and modernity.  Gandhi used his beliefs to make reforms in the macro society as well as the micro. Here Gandhi would mold his vision on the Indian nation-state.

The British control of the Indian people forced Indians into abject poverty and despair.  It was the greed and selfishness of the Empire that had lead to the oppression of India.  Imperialism survived on the desire for more wealth and the lack of control in the desire for material wealth drove the Empire to control India, its people and the land.  One that adheres to greed does not see that such things are temporary.  Like when Krishna explains to Arjuna, that such things can easily be discarded but the soul endures, contaminating the soul with such desires the individual is distracting the soul’s natural wish which is to be a part of the force of Truth.  With this story of the Gita lies the framework for Gandhi’s conceptualization of apigraha-non possession.  Spinning was one of the ways that he was able to clothe himself without giving into the desire for possessions.  This is a perfect example of the dialectical nature of Gandhi’s relationship with the macro and the micro.  By using the charka to spin cotton and not wearing European suits, Gandhi was not supporting British economy. When the nation followed they not only protested the Empire’s nature of greed but also controlled their desires for material goods.  Thus, Gandhi’s actions would inspire great social and spiritual leaders of all people and all places in the years to follow.

Satya, which is derived, from the word Sat meaning to be, means Truth and agraha means force and together the words mean a force of Truth. “The word Satyagraha is often most loosely used and is made to cover veiled violence.  But, as the author of the word, I may be allowed to say that it excludes every form of violence, direct or indirect, veiled or unveiled, and whether in thought, word or deed.  “It is a breach of Satyagraha to wish ill to an opponent or to say a harsh word to him or of him with the intention of harming him…” and so if one obstains from violence in the very presence of violence then one is upon the path to Truth (Prabhu and Rao 167-168).   In fact, the true form of Ahimsa will arise when an individual has an opportunity to do the greatest damage and elects not to do so.  For example, when the British were at war Gandhi did not protest and he went as far as to create a medical regiment to support the British.  This is because any action taken against one’s opponent when they are weak is considered an act of violence.  Thus, if Gandhi acted against the British it would be violent because they were already weakened by war.  In the Great Salt March, Gandhi did not allow women to march because of Ahimsa.  The British would not retaliate if women were marching. That means the playing field on which Gandhi is fighting would not be equal and thus this would violate Ahimsa. The art of civil disobedience was not only obtaining justice, but also allowing the perpetrator of in-justice to understand the justice in the cause for which one is fighting.

“With Satya combined with Ahimsa, you can bring the world to your feet.  Satyagraha in its essence is nothing but the introduction of truth and gentleness in the political, i.e., the national, life…” of all people (Prabhu and Rao 167).  Gandhi believed that he alone would never obtain independence for India.  Through the combination of Ahimsa and Satyagraha, the British would see the wisdom in leaving India.  In essence they would have tasted Truth and they would see that British occupation of India was in fact wrong, immoral, un-just, and un-Truthful.  In turn this would change the very fabric of British society, because they would then reject the ways of imperialism.  It is important to note that Gandhi did not oppose the British people, but the British occupation.  He wanted British rule over India to end and when they left he wanted to see them off as friends.  The purpose of bringing Satyagraha and Ahimsa together was to change the lives of Indians politically and to change the lifestyles of all people

Gandhi wished to make many reforms within Indian society.  The status of women and untouchability were also on his agenda.  Again this was an important part of the quest for Truth.  How one lived within one’s given environment is the key to Truth.  There was no soul on the planet that Truth did not touch.  This shows that Gandhi was more than a freedom fighter.  He wanted to change the hearts of all people and to turn the world’s attention away from the industrialized world and towards Truth.  If oppression from the British was wrong, then oppression from one’s compatriots would also be wrong.  Gandhi was not fighting British people, but was fighting British society.  He did not want the same greed, and same quest for material wealth to permeate through India.  As stated in Hind Swaraj, Gandhi states that many Indians want, “…English rule without the Englishman.  You want the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger; that is to say, you would make India English.  And when it becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englistan.  This is not the Swaraj that I want” (Pg27).  Gandhi soon continues to criticize the society by stating that,

This civilization is irreligion, and it has taken such a hold on the people in Europe that those who are in it appear to be half mad.  They lack real physical strength or courage.  They keep up their energy by intoxication.  They can hardly be happy in solitude…this civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed (Pg33).

Swaraj was not about fighting the Empire; it was about changing one’s life and one’s perspective on the social world altogether.  The desires of the Empire could plague Indians as well.  Therefore, India would need to create a social system and society that resisted imperialistic desires.

Gandhi was a simple man with questions regarding God, spirituality, and the social world.  However, he found some of the answers through his social reform and self-realization.  His ideas were not immediately created but they evolved over time and with experience.  The field in which Gandhi found Truth was in the Indian freedom movement.  He offered not just freedom, but a way out from the madness that the civilized world has created. Gandhi’s quest was God, and no man can deny the fact that we all are on a quest for the Truth.  This quest has driven all people to define morality, human rights, and ethics.  Gandhi offered humanity with a way of life rather than just a political ideology.  Gandhi believed that what is accomplished in the nation can be accomplished in the home. The only force of change in this world is the force of Truth.