Ramadan Means Good Business for Hindus in Queens

Bhanu Shetty paints henna on a young girl's hand for the Eid ul-Fitr celebration.

Bhanu Shetty paints henna on a young girl's hand for the Eid ul-Fitr celebration.

BY CAROLINE ROTHSTEIN

As the month-long holiday of Ramadan came to a close Sunday, the Muslim commercial strip of Jackson Heights, Queens, was quiet and shuttered, while the Hindu side bustled with Muslim customers. Eid commemorated the end of Ramadan, when Muslims fasted daily from sun up to sun down for a month.

For days, Jackon Heights Muslims had been shopping for new clothes, toys, food and sweets, and women had been getting henna tattoos painted on their hands, part of a long Ramadan tradition. But residents and business owners all agreed that Saturday, Sept. 19, was the busiest day, with 74th Street flourishing hours past midnight.

Today, scores of Eid celebrators had last minute shopping and cooking to do, while others strolled the streets showing off their new saris, jewelry and henna. Indian proprietors and tattoo artists, many of whom said they were Hindu, were eagerly supportive.

The night before, Bhanu Shetty, a florist and henna tattoo artist, had set up a stand on the sidewalk outside of Mita Jewelers on 74th Street, where she worked until 2 a.m. decorating hands. Other henna artisans had adorned the street too—mostly non-locals who knew it would be a profitable evening. Shetty was there again this morning at 10 a.m., intently painting a Bangladeshi girl’s hand. “Normally, I don’t sit here. Only during this time,” she explained, noting that she lives in an apartment above the shop.

This block of 74th Street, between Roosevelt and 37th avenues, is filled with Indian-run stores; 73rd Street — on the other side of the block — is mostly Bangladeshi. While most businesses on 73rd were closed today, 74th was bustling and loud. According to the 2000 US Census, Jackson Heights is home to 2,663 Indian immigrants, most of whom are Hindu, and 2,273 Bangladeshi immigrants, most of whom are Muslim.

Several women lined up before Shetty to have their hands painted, a crucial custom for Eid. Shazia Akberzai from Afghanistan said, “When I come here, I feel like I am back home.” She and her husband drove to Jackson Heights from Queensboro for last minute shopping. They parked their car and hurried to Shetty. Customers old and young, their kids and husbands, gathered to watch and wait, and to be entertained by Shetty, who told tales from last night’s less friendly line, “They’re fighting, ‘Auntie, I was before you!’”

This afternoon Shetty was so busy that her 16-year-old son had to bring her lunch. She even forgot to prepare the flower garlands she takes to her Hindu temple every Sunday.

Down the street, the sign in the door and windows of Karishma, an Indian apparel store, boasted the “Biggest EID SALE EVER.” Sales clerk Kulwant Kur said that due to customers’ tighter budget, the store offered 50 percent discounts on items to draw people in and maintain their usual Eid holiday earnings. Karishma stayed open yesterday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., rather than closing at their usual 8:30 p.m. Kur said that despite the recession, they were able to match last years’ profits because of the sale.

Other businesses likewise said yesterday was their busiest day of the year. Savita Chugh, whose family owns three Indian clothing stores in this area, which is known as “Little India,” said their casual clothing store Aura Fashion was open last night until 1:15 a.m., even though they normally close at 8 p.m. Because Bengali and Indian clothing styles are similar, the Chugh’s stores were an appropriate stop for Muslims buying new clothes for Eid.

Similarly, Nandu Patel, a manager at Patel Brothers grocery store, said the store was packed yesterday, while today, “everybody celebrate at home.” Patel Brothers had sales too: $15.99 for a 4-pound box of Medjool dates that usually costs $19.99. Sweet ingredients are a large part of Eid celebrations, and families and friends exchange desserts with one another.

Shetty’s last client from 2 a.m. stopped by today and handed Shetty a bag of sweets. “Eid means you share it,” said Shetty, as her friend’s daughter walked away. Even though Shetty is Hindu, she too received gifts for today’s celebration.

Photo – Caroline Rothstein

2 Responses to “Ramadan Means Good Business for Hindus in Queens”

  1. Shaun says:

    well-written, easily ingested, and informative piece on the nuances of ethnic geography dynamics. I realize that it is a tired nonmenclature, but I believe that this story further evidences the “melting pot”-iness of the US; uncommon is the place where a Bangladesh Muslim buys goods and services provided by Hindus for the revered Eid celebration.
    Interestingly, the piece simultaneously highlights the extreme extent to which individuals tend to flock with birds of a feather, as demonstrated by the desolate-booming contrast that night within the radius of a mere block (ie- 73rd vs. 74th).
    In any case, I think that 4-pound box of Medjool dates sounds pretty good right about now!

  2. Sabah Khan says:

    THIS IS AWESOME, this story makes me so happy! good job :)

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