The Mahatma Gandhi District Is the Epicenter of Indian Culture in Texas

The Mahatma Gandhi District Is the Epicenter of Indian Culture in Texas

Written by: Clayton Maxwell Photos by:  Tiffany Hofeldt

THE MAHATMA GANDHI DISTRICT is like one big food-centric classroom for travelers unfamiliar with the Hindu religion and Indian geography. Just across the street from Udipi I find the wondrous Subhlaxmi grocery store, where 95% of the products are from India. The produce section overflows with fruits like spiky green Indian bitter melons that look like cucumbers with pointy spines, and sitafal, aka custard apple, which looks like an oversized Granny Smith with thick scales. A stroll down the cookie aisle reveals Karachi biscuits, a confection from Hyderabad in south-central India made from candied fruit and cardamom, and soan papdi, flaky sweets regarded as India’s version of cotton candy.

Most intriguing of all are the puja items on sale to celebrate Hindu holidays (puja is Sanskrit for “reverence”). When I was there, shiny brass baby cradles were on display in preparation for the Aug. 30 birthday of Krishna, the Hindu god of protection and love. And there were sparkly bracelets for Raksha Bandhan, an annual rite in which a sister ceremoniously ties a talisman on her brother’s wrist to symbolize sibling responsibility. An hour in this grocery store feels like a crash course in Hindu and Indian culture.

It helps to have someone like Animesh Patel, the friendly owner of this family business, explain meanings you can’t decipher on your own. The store, for example, is named after Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity. Patel finds Lakshmi’s avatar on a box of ginger chips, showing me how her hands are full of gold coins and flowers. “You should come back this weekend,” Patel says. “Everyone will be out for Raksha Bandhan. Then Krishna is coming up in two weeks, then Ganesh, then it’s Diwali. Now is Indian party season.”

The India Cultural Center anchors the Houston area that features South Asian restaurants and shops.

“The naming of the Mahatma Gandhi District was part of a continuum of initiatives to highlight the various ethnic and cultural communities of Houston,” Parker says.

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