Indians do not own any of those either, or any of the rest of the 27 Indian food businesses on that block between First and Second Avenues, or most of those in similar pockets all over New York City (not to mention London).
Behind such "Indian" restaurants, behind such signature "Indian" dishes like tandoori chicken and seasoned spinach with cheese, are Bangladeshi owners, Bangladeshi cooks, and probably Bangladeshi waiters and busboys. Over a quarter of a century, Bangladeshis have all but cornered the market in neighbourhood "Indian" restaurants popular with diners on modest budgets.
"I'd say 95 percent of New York's Indian restaurants belong to Bangladeshis," said Akbar Chowdhury, a daytime manager of Great India.
But it doesn't end there. Almost all of those Bangladeshis come from one sliver of Bangladesh: Sylhet, a region of emerald green ricefields and dense tea gardens on the country's eastern border, where the Gangetic plain meets the rugged hills of the isolated Indian Northeast and Myanmar.
So why not Windows on Bangladesh or the Great Bangladesh restaurant?
For the Bangladeshi immigrants who came to New York for a fresh start, the choice of names was both a matter of marketing and a bit of insecurity. Among the nations encompassed in the vast Indian Subcontinent, only India became the stuff of romance: the pink palaces, the Taj Mahal, the caparisoned elephants. As for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, their images became negative ones: wars, unbelievable natural catastrophes, poverty on a grand scale. Bangladeshis remember with pain how long they were known as Asia's "basket case".
"We give our restaurants Indian names," the Bangladeshi manager of another Indian restaurant said, "because people in America know about India, and maybe they wouldn't come if we said we were from Bangladesh."
While true epicures would scoff at the thought that the foods of South Asia were similar enough to be interchangeable, the Bangladeshi restaurateurs who came to New York simply adopted what would be loosely described as North Indian food, heavy on oven-cooked meats and breads, and gave their small restaurants names from India to go along with the recognisable dishes.
Sylhet is an area known less for its fine cuisine (although local cooking is considered good) than for its adventurous, inventive people, quick to seize the chance to try something new. When Bangladesh went through a series of political upheavals—the end of British India in 1947, a spell as East Pakistan, followed by a battle against West Pakistan for independence in 1971—many Sylhetis took off for Britain, especially London, in search of stability and work.
"Eventually they ended up opening restaurants," said Shamsher Wadud, the owner of Nirvana, an upscale penthouse restaurant on Central Park South. "And then in the early 1970s, gradually more people from Sylhet were coming to New York. They saw the opportunities in America. They thought they'd do well because they did well in England."
Their timing seemed perfect. Not only were they able to capitalise on the changing appetites of native New Yorkers, but also the yearnings for familiar food of South Asians, who began settling in New York in greater numbers in the 1970s and 1980s.
On East Sixth Street, Hussain Ahmed, owns the Sonargaow restaurant, which advertises "exotic Indian" food and is a favourite of students from New York University. He said that his kitchen could prepare a range of subcontinental dishes taking in tastes from Afghanistan across Pakistan and India to his own lush, tropical homeland, where fish and rice dishes prevail. Sonargaow serves North Indian food cooked in tandoor ovens, but adds choices of brook trout and shellfish to the standard chicken, then ladles on the fragrant sauces.
"There were a lot of Indians living here with no eating places," said Ahmed, who saw Indian customers as his main market when he arrived in 1974. But as the clientele broadened, the seasoning inevitably changed.
"We cook a little different than we would in Sylhet, without the hot spice," he said. "But of course if anyone wants the spice we can add it. Every single spice is now available in New York and we can cook every dish without imports."
Wadud of Nirvana has his roots in Bangladesh, told "But I'm not from Sylhet; I'm from Dhaka," he said, and much of his own experience was different from that of the immigrant Sylheti restaurateurs in the city's less glamorous neighbourhoods. Born in Dhaka, then an imperial British city and now the Bangladeshi capital, he was the son of a college professor from Calcutta whose family owned a hotel there called the Biltmore.
Wadud first came to New York in the late 1960s as a 16-year-old American Field Service exchange student and was assigned to a comfortable home in Fairfield, Conn., and "parents"—Elroy and Claire Blair—showed him New York, including an India restaurant called Kashmir on West 45th Street. Its owner was a Bangladeshi, naturally.
Young Shamsher was underwhelmed by both the kitchen and the service. "Not humble, like in Bangladesh," he said of the waiters. An idea occurred to him: he could do better. A few years later he was back in this country, abandoning plans for a technical education to learn the rudiments of American-style customer service. In his early 20s, he opened his first Nirvana in 1970, a little place on Lexington Avenue and 81st Street.
"In the 1970s, people were not that familiar with Indian food," Wadud said. There were a few "hole in the wall" places, he recalled, and a few splashy corporate owned restaurants, now gone because, he said, they lacked the personal touch.
The present, larger Nirvana opened within a year with a private party for George Harrison of the Beatles and Ravi Shankar, the Indian musician, to celebrate a film they had made together. Big names never stopped coming. Early this year, Salman Rushdie, who rarely dines out, came for dinner.
But however different his means, Wadud's instincts were the same as those of the immigrant Bangladeshis who arrived with less money and attracted no stars for friends, and had only their Sylheti connection. As time Brassed the Bangladeshis were joined in the restaurant business by a few South Indian Tamils specialising in vegetarian dishes, who now figure in the culinary mix of the Litfle India along Lexington Avenue in the upper 80s.
A heady mix it can be. The New Madras Palace, on Lexington between 27th and 28th Streets, is owned by Indian Muslims but is vegetarian (and thus acceptable to Hindus) as well as kosher. The manager, Abdul Rahman, said that Hindu or Muslim, it was all the same to him when it came to cooking hot South Indian food.
Shashi Tharoor, an Indian writer who is Secretary General Kofi Annan's communications director at the United Nations, has kept an eye on the South Asian restaurant scene for a few years. He has noticed that even when Bangladeshis do not own the place, they are probably working as waiters. He has also noticed that in the last decade or so, wealthier Indian Punjabis have got into Manhattan's South Asian restaurant mix and created the more expensive Midtown places specialising in pure North Indian food—the Bukhara Grill, Diwan and Jewel of India among them. But that is another story.
The Sonargaow, with its Bengali name, is one of a very few places to advertise its ethnic roots, The name was not hard to choose, said Hussain Ahmed, as he surveyed East Sixth Street. "Sonargaow means a golden village," he said. "And this village is a village of gold."
Barbara Crosette in "In New York, Don't Take 'Indian' Food Too Literally" from The New York Times.
Form a Babylonian map on clay tablet dating back to 2300 BC to digital cartography of the present day, map making has made tremendous progress. With the new millennium here, the making and utility of maps is in a state of major revolution. In modern society, maps constitute the most important source of geographical, physical, economic, scientific and sociological information. The Survey of India (SOI), which is 233 years old, is responsible for all topographical and developmental surveys. This is unlike in the United States of America where the US Geological Survey is responsible for publishing national topographic maps. The Survey of India, with its reach of Aa Setu Himalchalam, is geared to meet the challenges of surveying the entire country. It acts as adviser to the Government of India on survey matters viz., geodesy, photogrammetry, mapping and map reproduction. It has aerially photographed the entire country on various scales and has availed of the imageries beamed from indigenous as well as international satellites…
…Toposheet, an essential tool of information, should be available to all citizens as a matter of right. Unfortunately, the colonial British Government in India introduced the principle of security of maps by a strict rule that surveyors of Survey of India should treat their work as secret and not pass on copies even to local officers, civil or military, Without proper authority. This restriction at that time was based on deep suspicion that many public officers carried papers in their charge to England, especially maps which could be put to evil purpose. For the colonial government in India, maps served the purpose of consolidation of its empire rather than education and dissemination of information. It insisted on secrecy as it was fearful of giving useful information to alien nations. Gen. Walker, the Surveyor General, almost lost his job ion permitting publications of details of exploration and mapping of Tibet, Central A.sia, Nepal, Bhutan and other Northern Frontier areas in the journals of Royal Geographic Society and Asiatic Society of Bengal because, the then British Indian Government had considered this information secret… it is a great pity that independent India still practices this restriction as an uncompromising rule and enforces its rigidly.
The restriction on the sale, publication and distribution of maps published by the Survey of India took a more inflexible form in the period 1960-62, which witnessed a conflict with an attack by China along the northern border and later in 1965 in the aftermath of the Indo-Pakistan war. However, the prevalent policy of restriction of maps and toposheets was laid down in late 1967 and further amended in 1968 by the Ministry of Defence, Government of India. According to all of this, all topographical and geographical maps of areas (of about 80 km) between the delineated line, shown on the "Index to Toposheets" published by the Survey of India, and the land border, and also of similar maps of areas between the delineated line and the coast line of India, including similar maps of Bhutan and Sikkim, and also similar maps of the outlying islands viz. Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshdweep Islands comprising Laccadiv, Minicoy and Amindivi, on scales 1:1 million and larger, are restricted and their sale, publication and distribution are governed by separate set rules. Thus, nearly 227 out of 385 Degree Toposheets remain restricted and this includes SOI Map catalogue published in 1962, and also the book, Gravity in India.
Only in 1971, the clearance of the Ministry of Defence was accorded for issue of restricted maps to private individuals, organisations and commercial firms whose indent, applied through State Government, has to be approved by the Minister of Defence. Persons receiving "Restricted" maps have to submit an annual certificate of safe custody of such maps by 31st December every year. In case, part of any area falls across the external boundary of India, the indent has to be cleared by the Ministry of External Affairs. Topographical maps, both for restricted as well as unrestricted areas, which depict grid lines cannot be issued to civilian users without prior approval of the Ministry of Defence. Without gridlines, maps lose some of their utility for easy reference and location.
Every user organisation in India without exception has seriously suffered professionally for lack of easy availability of toposheets of restricted category. This has placed a major impediment to progress without serving the security needs. Aerial photographs falling within restricted or unrestricted areas are classified as Secret/Top Secret for whole of India, despite the fact that these photographs are an important tool for research workers in cartography, environmental studies, geological interpretation, planning and development of growing towns and increasing urbanisation. Even geological maps, without contour details, pertaining to "Restricted" areas, prepared by Geological Survey of India need clearance from the Ministry of Defence prior to their publication. In many cases, latitudes and longitudes are asked to be deleted and in some cases even exclusion of scale for the map is suggested making a mockery of Geographical Information System and reducing the utility of geological maps.
Restricted maps cannot be exported without the prior approval of the Ministry of Defence. Also export of maps even of unrestricted area on scale of quarter inch and larger and the microfilms obtained from such maps depicting any part of India including its international boundaries and showing topographical features by contours is prohibited. As a contrast, maps on large scales of any country are easily available in Western countries for purchase in any bookshop. Export of geo-scientific thematic maps on a scale of 1:25,000 based on unrestricted tbposheets is prohibited. For the sale of such maps to foreign agencies, security vetting by the Ministry of Defence and clearance by the Ministries of External Affairs and Finance Would be essential.
S. V. Srikantia in "Restriction on maps—an anachronism THAT NEEDS REMOVAL" from The Himalayan Club Newsletter.
Calling the president
The following is a fictional telephone conference-call between the "most powerful man in the whole wide world", the "most honest, most beneficent what-I-do-I-do-it-for-country-and-father-but-not-necessarily-in-that-order, humble and multi-doctor-ated intellectual democrat and nation saviour daughter of the founder" and the "most more-honester, fighter-for-the-national-interest, master political strategist and nation's emancipator for the national good cause". The call takes place before the much anticipated "day trip".
Precedent Clintoff (PC): Good Evening, Madama. Can ya all hear me fine?Privy Minister Hahsinoevil (PMH): Good evening Mr. Keelintov. Our people, for whom I am but simply a humble servant and protector of the national interest as per the directions of the dreams of the founder of the nation, can hear you very fine.
Begone Kaladay Zee (OBK): Yes, good evening Mr. Precedent, please allow me to point to the fact that due to the difference of time zones it is good morning here in Dah-kah and thus I am not in agreement with the stand our so-called Privy Minister Hahsinoevil has taken in her greetings towards you. Nonetheless I can hear fine also too. PMH: Please let me say that in the nearly four year that we have been in power, we have developed the telecommunication network and have added almost 34,982 lines and an additional 8,734 will be converted into the digital system. As a result of our tireless efforts, the communication system between the land of my father's birth and the land of my granddaughter's birth are like AT&T crystal service! In fact it is so much easier to call Florida these days…
PC: Well, okay sorry to interrupt… but… ah… now ladies you know that I am making a day trip to your country soon… PMH: Yes, yes I have already been given credit for my dynamic leadership. PC: Madam I would appreciate it that you would let me finish before you said anything… OBK: Heh heh… snigger… snigger
PC; That would be the same for you Mrs. Kaladay…
PMH: Heh…heh… snigger…snigger PC: … ladies please! Now you know I will be flying into Dhaka on March 20.I would like to extend my thanks for helping my advance-security team on their visit…
PMH: Yes, our government has acted fast in aiding all personnel on your security team—men, women and dogs. You must be glad to know that the Golapganj corner varsity has offered me an honorary doctorate for my tireless efforts in this regard for maintaining peace and democracy in the region. OBK: WE, the allied opposition against this oppressive regime, have decided that we would not hold any rallies or hartals during your visit as an honourable gesture.
PC: Actually it's more like a day trip really… you know like a picnic you go to … or like a field trip that you had to go to in school because you were in the area…
PMH: Yes, we have closed down four of our seven roads on the occasion of your visit so people will keep off the roads and enjoy a holiday instead of having to go to work and causing unnecessary traffic jams. As a sign of support for my democratically elected government several businesses have even declared a holiday in honour of your visit to help us keep people and vehicles off the streets.
PC: Anyway like… i… was… saying… I hope that it has not been too inconvenient having to accommodate my needs…
PMH: Accommodate… but you said you did not want to stay overnight! Oh Ghawd! PC: Wait, wait… I will not be staying overnight.. .what I mean is accommodate as in make arrangements for…after all my itinerary has been juggled a lot and…
OBK: When I was in power there was law and order so you could have stayed overnight no problem… PMH: No, no what nonsense. There is no 'law and order situation' after we have passed the public safety finance bill. Besides Mr. Precedent Keelintov is only coming because of my dynamic leadership and to pay respects to the great father of the nation. .. aren't you Mr. Keelintov?
PC: … ah, yes… I reckon something like that. Although, if you check the itinerary, you will see that the museum got dropped from my schedule… PMH: What! But your visit would have been a political coup for my re-election!
PC: Yes… we know that. That's why we felt that the Undivided States of America should not get involved in local politics.
PMH: Yes I understand, but your visit to the museum would engineer a comeback to the seat for me. PC: Yes… we know that. That's why we felt that the Undivided States of America should not get involved in local politics.
PMH: That's right, but please understand that your visit to the shrine… err… museum would have streamlined my ascension to the highest office of my land.
PC: Yes… we know that. That IS why we felt that the Undivided States of America should not get involved in local politics.
OBK: Does that mean that you are in opposition of the present fascist government that is masquerading as a democratic regime without the mandate of the people's franchise?
PC: Please understand one thing… we, the Undivided States of America, consider it our prime directive NOT to get involved in local politics! Listen, we need to actually have a productive conversation, my time is very valuable, as I am sure yours is too…
PMH: Yes, we are a government that believes in reading. In fact, I take every opportunity to read a book, which these days has become difficult because I have so little time and my time is so valuable.
OBK: Yes… there is so little time to strategise movements that will seize power from the fascist dictatorial government and win back my rightful place at the head of the government;
PC(sighing): … yes I am sure. Well a lot has come out from our conversation today. I thank you for you time. Good Bye and Good Day to you both. PMH: Yes. See you! Bye.
OBK: By saying 'good DAY' you have shown the folly of this repressive government that it is 'day' and not 'night' here in Dak-kah and further-mor… CLICK…
PC picks up the phone and rings his Secretary of State, Madly,Allshiny.
PC: Madly, I was wondering if I could make a small change in my Bangladesh Itinerary. Is it too late to reduce my time with Minister Hahsinoevil and Opposing Kaladay for 15 minutes say… there? The rest, as they say, is history.
Talat Kamal in "Talk of the Devil" from Star, Dhaka