Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world

People at Djemaa el-Fna Square, late afternoon sun
Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world. The growth and regional migration of Muslims, combined with the ongoing impact of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and other extremist groups that commit acts of violence in the name of Islam, have brought Muslims and the Islamic faith to the forefront of the political debate in many countries. Yet many facts about Muslims are not well known in some of these places, and most Americans – who live in a country with a relatively small Muslim population – say they know little or nothing about Islam.
Here are answers to some key questions about Muslims, compiled from several Pew Research Center reports published in recent years:
How many Muslims are there? Where do they live?

There were 1.8 billion Muslims in the world as of 2015 – roughly 24% of the global population – according to a Pew Research Center estimate. But while Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion (after Christianity), it is the fastest-growing major religion. Indeed, if current demographic trends continue, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed the number of Christians by the end of this century.
Although many countries in the Middle East-North Africa region, where the religion originated in the seventh century, are heavily Muslim, the region is home to only about 20% of the world’s Muslims. A majority of the Muslims globally (62%) live in the Asia-Pacific region, including large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.
Indonesia is currently the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, but Pew Research Center projects that India will have that distinction by the year 2050 (while remaining a majority-Hindu country), with more than 300 million Muslims.
The Muslim population in Europe also is growing; we project 10% of all Europeans will be Muslims by 2050. 
How many Muslims are there in the United States?
In 2015, according to our best estimate, there were 3.3 million Muslims of all ages in the U.S., or about 1% of the U.S. population. Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study (conducted in English and Spanish) found that 0.9% of U.S. adults identify as Muslims. A 2011 survey of Muslim Americans, which was conducted in English as well as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, estimated that there were 1.8 million Muslim adults (and 2.75 million Muslims of all ages) in the country. That survey also found that a majority of U.S. Muslims (63%) are immigrants.
Our demographic projections estimate that Muslims will make up 2.1% of the U.S. population by the year 2050, surpassing people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion as the second-largest faith group in the country (not including people who say they have no religion).
A recent Pew Research Center report estimated that the Muslim share of immigrants granted permanent residency status (green cards) increased from about 5% in 1992 to roughly 10% in 2012, representing about 100,000 immigrants in that year.
Why is the global Muslim population growing?

There are two major factors behind the rapid projected growth of Islam, and both involve simple demographics. For one, Muslims have more children than members of other religious groups. Around the world, each Muslim woman has an average of 2.9 children, compared with 2.2 for all other groups combined.
Muslims are also the youngest (median age of 24 years old in 2015) of all major religious groups, seven years younger than the median age of non-Muslims. As a result, a larger share of Muslims already are, or will soon be, at the point in their lives when they begin having children. This, combined with high fertility rates, will fuel Muslim population growth.
While it does not change the global population, migration is helping to increase the Muslim population in some regions, including North America and Europe.
How do Americans view Muslims and Islam?
Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2017 asked Americans to rate members of nine religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” from 0 to 100, where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating. Overall, Americans gave Muslims an average rating of 48 degrees, similar to atheists (50).
Americans view more warmly the seven other religious groups mentioned in the survey (Jews, Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons). But views toward Muslims (as well as several of the other groups) are now warmer than they were a few years ago; in 2014, U.S. adults gave Muslims an average rating of 40 degrees in a similar survey.
Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party gave Muslims an average rating of 39, considerably cooler than Democrats’ rating toward Muslims (56).

Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say they are very concerned about extremism in the name of Islam around the world (67% vs. 40%) and in the U.S. (64% vs. 30%). In addition, a December 2016 survey found that more Republicans than Democrats say Islam is likelier than other religions to encourage violence among its believers (70% vs. 26% of Democrats). While most Americans (57%) believe there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. today, views are again split by party: 69% of Democrats and those who lean Democratic and 40% of Republicans and GOP leaners hold this view.
About half of Americans (49%) think at least “some” U.S. Muslims are anti-American, greater than the share who say “just a few” or “none” are anti-American, according to a January 2016 survey. Views on this question have become much more partisan in the last 14 years (see graphic). But most Americans do not see widespread support for extremism among Muslims living in the U.S., according to a February 2017 survey. Overall, 40% say there is not much support for extremism among U.S. Muslims, while an additional 15% say there is none at all. About a quarter say there is a fair amount of support (24%) for extremism among U.S. Muslims; 11% say there is a great deal of support.
How do Europeans view Muslims?
In spring 2016, we asked residents of 10 European counties for their impression of how many Muslims in their country support extremist groups, such as ISIS. In most cases, the prevailing view is that “just some” or “very few” Muslims support ISIS, but in Italy, 46% say “many” or “most” do.
The same survey asked Europeans whether they viewed Muslims favorably or unfavorably. Perceptions varied across European nations: Majorities in Hungary, Italy, Poland and Greece say they view Muslims unfavorably, while negative attitudes toward Muslims are much less common in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Northern and Western Europe. People who place themselves on the right side of the ideological scale are much more likely than those on the left to see Muslims negatively.

What characteristics do people in the Muslim world and people in the West associate with each other?
A 2011 survey asked about characteristics Westerners and Muslims may associate with one another. Across the seven Muslim-majority countries and territories surveyed, a median of 68% of Muslims said they view Westerners as selfish. Considerable shares also called Westerners other negative adjectives, including violent (median of 66%), greedy (64%) and immoral (61%), while fewer attributed positive characteristics like “respectful of women” (44%), honest (33%) and tolerant (31%) to Westerners.
Westerners’ views of Muslims were more mixed. A median of 50% across four Western European countries, the U.S. and Russia called Muslims violent and a median of 58% called them “fanatical,” but fewer used negative words like greedy, immoral or selfish. A median of just 22% of Westerners said Muslims are respectful of women, but far more said Muslims are honest (median of 51%) and generous (41%).

What do Muslims around the world believe?
Like any religious group, the religious beliefs and practices of Muslims vary depending on many factors, including where in the world they live. But Muslims around the world are almost universally united by a belief in one God and the Prophet Muhammad, and the practice of certain religious rituals, such as fasting during Ramadan, is widespread.
In other areas, however, there is less unity. For instance, a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims in 39 countries asked Muslims whether they want sharia law, a legal code based on the Quran and other Islamic scripture, to be the official law of the land in their country. Responses on this question vary widely. Nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and most in Iraq (91%) and Pakistan (84%) support sharia law as official law. But in some other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Turkey (12%), Kazakhstan (10%) and Azerbaijan (8%) – relatively few favor the implementation of sharia law.
How do Muslims feel about groups like ISIS?
Recent surveys show that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS, including virtually all respondents in Lebanon and 94% in Jordan. Relatively small shares say they see ISIS favorably. In some countries, considerable portions of the population do not offer an opinion about ISIS, including a majority (62%) of Pakistanis.

Favorable views of ISIS are somewhat higher in Nigeria (14%) than most other nations. Among Nigerian Muslims, 20% say they see ISIS favorably (compared with 7% of Nigerian Christians). The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, which has been conducting a terrorist campaign in the country for years, has sworn allegiance to ISIS.
More generally, Muslims mostly say that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified, including 92% in Indonesia and 91% in Iraq. In the United States, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslims say such tactics are rarely or never justified. An additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified and 1% say they are often justified.
In a few countries, a quarter or more of Muslims say these acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 40% in the Palestinian territories, 39% in Afghanistan, 29% in Egypt and 26% in Bangladesh.
In many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations are as concerned as Western nations about the threat of Islamic extremism, and have become increasingly concerned in recent years. About two-thirds of people in Nigeria (68%) and Lebanon (67%) said in 2016 that they are very concerned about Islamic extremism in their country, both up significantly since 2013.

What do American Muslims believe?
Our 2011 survey of Muslim Americans found that roughly half of U.S. Muslims (48%) say their own religious leaders have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists.
Living in a religiously pluralistic society, Muslim Americans are more likely than Muslims in many other nations to have many non-Muslim friends. Only about half (48%) of U.S. Muslims say all or most of their close friends are also Muslims, compared with a global median of 95% in the 39 countries we surveyed.
Roughly seven-in-ten U.S. Muslims (69%) say religion is very important in their lives. Virtually all (96%) say they believe in God, nearly two-thirds (65%) report praying at least daily and nearly half (47%) say they attend religious services at least weekly. By all of these traditional measures, Muslims in the U.S. are roughly as religious as U.S. Christians, although they are less religious than Muslims in many other nations.
When it comes to political and social views, Muslims are far more likely to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (70%) than the Republican Party (11%) and to say they prefer a bigger government providing more services (68%) over a smaller government providing fewer services (21%). As of 2011, U.S. Muslims were somewhat split between those who said homosexuality should be accepted by society (39%) and those who said it should be discouraged (45%), although the group had grown considerably more accepting of homosexuality since a similar survey was conducted in 2007.
What is the difference between Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims?
Sunnis and Shiites are two subgroups of Muslims, just as Catholics and Protestants are two subgroups within Christianity. The Sunni-Shiite divide is nearly 1,400 years old, dating back to a dispute over the succession of leadership in the Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. While the two groups agree on some core tenets of Islam, there are differences in beliefs and practices, and in some cases Sunnis do not consider Shiites to be Muslims.
With the exception of a few countries, including Iran (which is majority Shiite) as well as Iraq and Lebanon (which are split), most nations with a large number of Muslims have more Sunnis than Shiites. In the U.S., 65% identify as Sunnis and 11% as Shiites (with the rest identifying with neither group, including some who say they are “just a Muslim”).
Note: This post was updated on May 26, 2017. It was originally published Dec. 7, 2015.
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  • Michael Lipka is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


                                                                                    (cover attached)
                                   Jammu and Kashmir Dilemma of Accession

                                                                  A Historical Analysis and Lesson
           Prime Minister Pandit Ramchandra Kak's First-hand Account of the Tumultuous Events in 1946-47
                                                                                  Radha Rajan
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In the pantheon of intellectual kshatriyas, distinguished in contemporary time by stellar luminaries such as the late Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, one of the brightest stars today is Radha Rajan.  Fearlessly truthful, with a razor-sharp intellect, she minces no words as her weapons in the cause of the bharatiya rashtra.  She soldiers on many fronts, and most valorously on the subcontinental battleground that is the politics of Indian secularism.  Those who define us as heathens or kaffirs do so employing abrahamically self-conscious political action against us with our dhritarashtra-like sanction.  It is Radha ji who makes us aware that there can be no protection of the rashtra, and therefore of the dharma, without Hindu political self-consciousness.  
“Pantheon” has no antonym, but among those who wittingly subordinated the dharmic ethos to the abrahamic one, Mohandas Gandhi, inasmuch as he has been constructed into the “Father of the Nation”, must surely lead the others. Many of us, at home and abroad, have pointed out his sanctimony and duplicity; such was occasionally noted by his own political colleagues too; but none has demythologised him as perceptively, comprehensively and devastatingly as Radha Rajan.  Her Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and His Freedom Struggle razes the mahatma myth so assiduously built up by official and other hagiolaters. 
Through a fortuitous circumstance, Radha ji came into possession of a photocopy of a paper which led her to writing this monograph.  This paper is an insider’s account of the events leading to the accession of Kashmir to India, the insider being the Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir from June 30, 1945 to August 11, 1947.   His name - Ramchandra Kak, and he was also my grandfather. 
No copy of this document – described by Radha ji as one of national significance – is known to be available in India.  A copy is in the India Office Library in London, where it reached apparently amongst the papers of Richard Powell, the then Inspector General of Police.  While it is in the public domain, obviously it is not easy to access by those in India.  A scan of the original has been uploaded to the web, thanks to Lila Bhan and Radha ji, and will be readily accessible in print form as part of this monograph, courtesy Voice of India.
If Radha ji’s book on Gandhi buried him, with this monograph she erects his gravestone.
But a gravestone needs an epitaph and, for the epitaph most apt for carving on Gandhi’s gravestone, we need look no farther than to Gandhi’s acknowledged favourite, Jawaharlal Nehru. 
Fittingly Jawaharlal Nehru, because not only did Gandhi profess “a union of hearts” with Nehru but he also selected him as his own heir: “You are my son…..I have therefore named you as my heir”, he wrote to Nehru in 1924.  Gandhi was infatuated with Nehru, deviously positioning him to become our country’s first prime minister.[1]
So, here then, in his own words, is this son and heir’s pithy summation of the character, ideology and politics of the father, and here too in his own words is India’s first Prime Minister’s pithy summation of the Father of the Nation.
Nehru said of Gandhi:
“You know, he really was an awful old hypocrite.”[2]
Radha ji’s monograph centres itself around a contemporaneous account that features this “awful old hypocrite”, whose hypocrisy still costs India so dearly.  Both as a politically self-conscious Hindu and as Ramchandra Kak’s grandson, I must point out that Ramchandra Kak foresaw in 1947 that Sheikh Abdullah wanted his own independent principality, the continued existence of which would be guaranteed by the Indian armed forces and the solvency of which would be guaranteed by the Indian treasury.  Abdullah’s Kashmir would give nothing in return.  Nothing at all.  That is exactly what happened then, thanks to Gandhi-Nehru treachery. And that is how it has remained for the almost 70 years since then. 
It is a tragedy for Kashmiri Pandits that the course of events which Gandhi-Nehru and the Indian National Congress initiated in J&K by deliberately raising up a Sunni seditionist against the kingdom inevitably moved to no Hindu prime minister of Kashmir to no Hindu king in Kashmir to no Hindus in Kashmir and now to no Hindu (or even non-Sunni) chief minister at all for the State since the last one about 70 years ago.  It is a tragedy for Kashmiri Pandits that no Indian government so far has had the political will to even want to restore to Kashmiri Pandits the land of our ancestors.
It is a tragedy for Hindus that Gandhi-Nehru and the Indian National Congress consciously delivered over Kashmir to Hinduism’s self-declared enemy which, there, has gone from strength to strength against us, dispossessing us of our civilisational heritage and roots in Kashmir.  It is a tragedy for Hindus that no Indian government so far has had the political will to even want to restore to Hindus a wellspring of our civilization.
 It is Ramchandra Kak who asked, “If the Jews could get back Israel after 2000 years of exile, why should it be considered extraordinary if India wanted to retain Kashmir which was already in its possession?”
The Sunnis got Kashmir because they are an aggressively politically self-conscious beliefsystem. The Jews got Israel because, all through their persecution and exile, they carefully preserved their politically self-conscious identity. 
Radha ji concludes her monograph drawing a parallel to the Kaurava Court.  We Hindus have forgotten the lessons of the Mahabharata.  The Pandavas foolishly let the Kauravas dispossess them of everything, and when they were reduced to begging for the pittance of just five villages, Duryodhana hit back to Srikrishna (adapting it to Kashmir):
Take my message to your kaffirs, for our Sunni words are plain,
Any portion of the Koran’s empire Bharata’s sons seek in vain,
Nor town nor village, nor mart nor hamlet, help us Allah in heaven,
Not even a spot that a needle’s point can cover unto them will be given!”
It was thereafter that the Pandavas, still unconvinced, were made by Srikrishna to understand another lesson of the Mahabharata:
ahimsa paramo dharma
dharma himsa tathaiva cha
In our democracy, we Hindus too must learn to exercise power as a politically self-conscious electorate.[5] 
Nehru assumed “you know”.   He knew, but he did nothing to let the rest of us know, and the vast majority of us still do not.  It is the intellectual kshatriya Radha Rajan who most and best demonstrates the accuracy of Nehru’s assessment of Gandhi. It is she who, knowing, most and best educates us about why and how we must cease to worship this false god that is Gandhi. 
The statue of Gandhi that has been erected as the so-called Father of the Nation must be demolished.    
                                                                                                     Krishen Kak
1.  Critique of Gandhi, MM Kothari, Jodhpur: Critique Publications, 1996:125-129.
2.  Mike:The Memoirs of the Right Honourable  Lester B. Pearson, University of Toronto Press, 1973; vol.2:119.  Grateful acknowledgement to Subhash Kak for this reference.
3.  Mahabharata, Udyog Parva, Bhagwat Yana Parva Ch 127 (Gita Press).  Here adapted from is-the-Sanskrit-Shlok-of- needle-said-by-Duryodhan-as-a- reply-to-Krishna-when-he-came- as-a-messenger.
4. Ahimsa_Paramo_Dharma Bharat’s historical experience of Islam can be stated aptly with KD Prithipaul’s “Muslims can live only as an oppressive majority or a turbulent minority” ( 2008/07/ns-rajaram-reviews- the-legacy-of-islamic- antisemitism/). We must learn from Israel and, therefore, to the Golden Rule of Reciprocity I append my Rider of the Pre-emptive Strike (Do to others as you would have them do unto you - but if you have sufficient experience of what they'll do unto you, you do it to them first). 
5.   And that includes re-learning the Chanakyaniti of sama/dana/bheda/danda (Arthashastra 1.13.25).

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------------------------------ ------------------------------ ------------------------------ ---------------------------
"The Father of Our Nation"

"If the Muslims want to kill us
all Hindus we must face our deaths
bravely" - "Mahatma" Gandhi

April 6 1947 

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The Story of Patel Brothers, the Biggest Indian Grocery Store in America

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Photo by Celeste Byers
When he was 23, Mafat Patel headed for America. It was 1968, and he had just received a visa to get his MBA at Indiana University.
This trip would mark his first time outside his home country of India. Born the eldest of six siblings, three sisters and two brothers, he’d spent most of his life on a farm in the village of Bhandu, nestled in the Mehsana district of the state of Gujarat. He'd never traveled beyond the neighboring district of Patan, where he went to school to get his degree in Mechanical Engineering.
He completed his business degree within two years and moved to Chicago, where he fell into a vocation most other recent male South Asian transplants had, working the assembly lines of factories as a quality control engineer. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had done its fair share to usher in an influx of educated immigrant minds who could turn into a skilled workforce.
But Mafat would later admit he found this work somewhat isolating. This bloomed into a unique quarter-life crisis: Though Mafat was surrounded by a number of recent immigrants like him, he still found himself unable to make America feel like somewhere he belonged.

The Patel family in Mehsana.
The Patel family in Mehsana. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
It was an issue of appetite, mostly. His meals were the places where this alienation became most stark, dinners like small marches of misery, with American flavors he found difficult to find comfort in— nothing like the khichdi or curries he had grown up eating. Where was rice flour? Turmeric? This was an era in which Indians had to stuff canisters of these ingredients inside their checked luggage.
Mafat began to notice that others in this demographic subset had similar feelings; they were young Gujarati men like him, far from home for the first time, knowing they couldn’t forfeit their American livelihoods but still in search of any conduit to India. He took small solace in the fact that he wasn’t alone, and began to wonder what he could do to solve this problem.
Mafat saw a potential profit in this loss. He wanted to open a grocery store. It’d be small, but it’d have everything he, along with those in his community afflicted by his same pain, may need to cook the dishes from back home. And it showed signs of falling into place: In 1971, Ramesh Trivedi, an enterprising businessman, approached Mafat about a storefront on Devon Avenue that he wanted to sell, some shanty edifice that suffered from poor insulation.
Mafat didn’t mind. He dropped everything.

He quickly realized it was nearly impossible to mount a full-blown grocery store alone. So he asked his brother, Tulsi, still in Gujarat, for help. Though Tulsi and his wife, Aruna, made the pilgrimage to Chicago in 1971 just to aid Mafat in this undertaking, it took three years for them to sort out the logistics and open the first Patel Brothers store in September of 1974. It began as a modest operation, a sparse, dingy 900-square foot store with little in the way of anatomical logic. Shelves were disorganized and cluttered, while the then-three family members, the store’s sole staffers, traded shifts between 9AM and 9PM; on their off-hours, the men would go to their second jobs.

From the private archives of the Patel family.
From the private archives of the Patel family. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
Today, Patel Brothers has splintered into an $140-million emporium. On that stretch of Devon Avenue in Chicago alone, there is now Patel Air Tours, a travel agency; Sahil, a clothing boutique meant for Indian weddings; Patel Handicrafts and Utensils, which sells religious memorabilia and trinkets; and Patel Café, an eatery. Today, the stores are managed by a rotating cast of family members that stretches over three generations. The establishments are patronized by a motley of ethnic groups beyond the South Asian diaspora. Patel Brothers has 51 locations, most concentrated along the East Coast, some stretching to Texas and the American South, and one in California. The franchise has proven resilient throughout the ebbs and flows of the American economy.
“The most novel aspect of Patel Brothers is how accessible it has made Indian ingredients for non-Indian customers,” Priya Krishnawrote in a short paean to the chain a few months ago. She notes the store’s skillful ability to market itself to an America beyond the South Asian diaspora through a technique as straightforward as listing its ingredients in both Hindi and English.
Patel Brothers is a store that exists at the juncture of pragmatism and fantasy; the store has realized a possibility for pluralist cultural exchange without sacrificing its Indian DNA. Patel Brothers has spawned a subgenre of Indian grocery stores, from Subzi Mandi to Patidar Supermarket, yet it towers over this ecosystem like a citadel of the Indian-American grocery chain.

A scene from the first Patel Brothers in Chicago.
A scene from the first Patel Brothers in Chicago. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
The brothers' narrative is what we call American Dream, that story of the hard-working, industrious immigrant who proves his worth through serving others, defying preordained odds and obliterating those obstacles for others who follow. I contacted the Patel family multiple times for the purposes of this story, and was met, effectively, with the same response each time: They were just too busy to field my questions. Running an empire takes work.

It is funny to think that the existence of Patel Brothers owes itself to a matter as mundane as one man seeking relief for a deep human impulse: his hunger. Had I known of the store’s origins growing up in New Jersey, perhaps I would not have taken its very existence for granted. I must have been three or so when I first visited Patel Brothers. It became a permanent fixture of my childhood, so much that it never occurred to me that there was anything vaguely special, or revolutionary, about this store’s being.

The Patel Brothers store in Chicago in the 1970s.
The Patel Brothers store in Chicago in the 1970s. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
This was the mid-90s. By then, the store had expanded to such cities as New York, Houston, Atlanta, and Detroit, due to the brothers’ realization that Indian families from various neighboring states were driving to Devon Avenue on weekends just to shop there. As I grew up, I saw my local store’s interiors gain more order and take on the characteristics of its larger, more mainstream competitors.
Swetal Patel, Mafat’s son, came of age in a family of ten in Chicago, with few students at school who looked like him. He spent a lot of time in the store as a kid, bagging groceries and pulling shopping carts from sidewalks to customers’ cars. Though he loved his mother’s cooking, he was too humiliated to bring any foods with some markedly alien odor with him to school.
“It was hard growing up, where we growing up in Skokie," Susan Patel, Tulsi's daughter, admitted in a 2013 interview. "I was one of very few Asians at the time in my school." She had an experience similar to that of her cousin: The enclave of Skokie she inhabited was saturated with white and Jewish kids, and with it came an element of insecurity in her heritage. It didn't quite help that the business of Patel Brothers surrounded her growing up, so much that it swallowed her adolescence. She’d help her father weigh grains after school and play tag in the store aisles as a way to pass time.

From the private archives of the Patel family.
From the private archives of the Patel family. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
Having a childhood defined by her proximity to the store, a dynastic heirloom she didn’t ask for, occasionally overwhelmed Susan. Like her cousin, the pain stung doubly when Susan encountered an outside world that could feel harsh, incurious, or judgmental of her family's Indian food. Everything she was told to question or suppress about her own heritage was refracted in her father’s store.
What changed? In the early 1990s, Swetal and his brother, Rakesh, both decided to put their degrees in Finance and Marketing to use. Rakesh recognized that there was a new generation of Indian-Americans now experiencing a clamoring much like that of their predecessors who'd come to the States from India: They were working long hours, and they missed their parents’ food.
In 1991, the pair launched a subsidiary of the Patel brand called Raja Foods, a response to the beckoning call for more pre-packaged Indian foods that could be heat up as easily as TV dinners: ready-made chapatis, pea-and-potato samosas, meals that resembled TV dinners, but with paneers. It had grown out of Rakesh’s senior thesis, wherein he devised a distribution company that could fulfill this very need. He decided to name it after his childhood nickname, Raja.

From the private archives of the Patel family.
From the private archives of the Patel family. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
Susan was a bit more resistant to dedicating her life to the family business: It wasn't until she went to college that she began to take an interest in her own culture, studying abroad for two semesters in India. The visit made her reconstitute her understanding of this store’s service to her family. She took the reins of Patel Handicrafts and Utensils in her early 30s. This business, once a source of turmoil and grievance, became a site of reconciliation.

Albeit a few decades younger than them, I grew up in a similar America to these second-generation Patels; I yoked my family’s foods to shame. I was a child of the Jersey suburbs, where I became profoundly distrustful of the outside world, believing onlookers would to write them off instead as evidence of belonging to a subspecies, that they would find the store's delicacies—from kulfi to kachori, those fine-flour pockets filled with dal and fried until they pop like pockmarks—grotesque. As a kid, I would fib that my favorite cookies were Keebler’s El Fudge rather than Bourbon, with dark chocolate buttercream sandwiched between two biscuits topped with sugar.

Inside the Chicago Patel Brothers.
Inside the Chicago Patel Brothers. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
I would come to see Patel Brothers as the source for the great shame I carried with me in public: A visit to the store could carry with it associations of everything I was instructed to despise, from a certain scent that clings to my clothes to a box of mango juice that didn't look a thing like Capri Sun. It became tempting to disown even the simplest of pleasures, condiments like spiced tomato Maggi sauce, the more astringent sister to Heinz Ketchup, to consciously distance myself from them outside the safety of my own home. I played it safe, associating myself with these snacks' more favorable American analogs.
Going to Patel Brothers became a sort of utilitarian pastime for my family, yet my mind engaged in its own, cruel form of trivialization as I grew older, seeing it as the sorry sister to Shop Rite, A&P, or Pathmark. These were “American” stores my mind coded as white and thus aspirational. I carried this mindset with me for years until I moved from the East Coast to California for college, where there is one Patel Brothers store, in Santa Clara, a forty-minute drive from where my campus was. My diet had dulled in those years, revolving mostly around platefuls of quinoa, which I’d never consumed before college. Perhaps as an overcorrection for my ignorance, I ate quinoa as much as I could. It was a remarkably boring diet.
But there was an aspect of social performance to this, my attraction to dishes that gave me sustenance without the requisite gratification. It gave me the chance to deflect from any criticism that my palate still existed in the amber of my backward, brown childhood, that I hadn’t grown up yet.
My appetite for the foods I could find inside Patel Brothers became bottomless in that period, though in private. I craved chana chor, a spiced, fried chickpea snack that my parents and I mixed with Rice Krispies and had during tea in the afternoon. In the store’s absence, I grew weary for the thrills it offered.

Inside Patel Brothers in Chicago.
Inside Patel Brothers in Chicago. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
When I returned home to New Jersey on vacations, I indulged in anything I could find on my visits to the store. I practically mainlined them when I got home. But I made a pact with myself to confine that experience to my parents’ place. I grew adamant about not bringing these snacks back on the plane with me.
It didn’t quite work. In my senior year, my parents stuffed a box full of soan papdi, flaky, cubelike clusters of besan (gram flour) and sugar, into my carry-on against my wishes. I was dreadfully embarrassed to have this on my person once I landed back on campus. Though I thought very briefly of putting it in the kitchen for everyone to share—I spent that year living in a house with nearly 40 other students—I wondered what they’d think, and I braced myself for the awful things they’d say when they saw its packaging.
Since there was no greater fear than not being liked, where did that leave me? I took my box of soan papdi with me into my room and kept it there, until I realized there were four other South Asians living in that house that year. I decided to share it with them. We reveled in its delights, careful not to reveal them to anyone else, because we were scared of what others might say.
We are taught to be ashamed of our appetites. We are told to actively suppress our hunger when it becomes too large. Distance made me understand that keeping these longings private was unsustainable if I wanted to be a functional adult. Spending time apart from Patel Brothers provoked a rigorous self-examination about what this store meant to me, and the first step was to acknowledge that it meant anything at all.
After college, I moved back East, a train ride away from my hometown. In this migration, I had undergone a mental maturation, finding permission to love the foods I had, thus prior, eaten only in solitude. I could put my cravings on display.

A visit to Patel Brothers can feel like emerging from a plane:Your sense of the world becomes radically slower, the activity of grocery shopping gaining a more leisurely glean than the frantic stress that can ordinarily accompany a trip to the supermarket.

The Patel family in Mehsana.
The Patel family in Mehsana. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
One soggy Saturday in April, I trekked to the Patel Brothers in Edison, the one I remember most fondly from childhood. I hadn’t been there in months, because I hadn’t given myself much reason to be there lately, but my family found ourselves in the area. As I wandered the aisles, arranged like banks of baby mangoes and jackfruits, I was blanketed by dialects that were distinctly South Asian.
We go to the supermarket to get what we need. But our needs are determined by who we are and how we feed our obsessions. At the grocery store, everything we’d ever want is presented to us matter-of-factly, and we are forced to confront the extent of our desires. Our needs are not simply material. These are selfish, soulful wants, and they come from pits deeper than our stomachs.

The brothers in their home village in Mehsana.
The brothers in their home village in Mehsana. Photo by South Asian American Digital Archive
I have lived in a world without Patel Brothers, so I can say this much definitively: It’s terrifying to imagine a world where this store does not exist. Here is a business venture born out of one man’s hankering for home and his family's willingness to ease it. How comforting that they were brave enough to wield these desires openly, so that the rest of us could satisfy the hungers we don’t always realize we have.
I left the store with very little from that visit, drawn to what had long been my objects of affection: cake rusks for dipping in tea, a packet of wheaty and flat-baked Parle-G biscuits, and bag of frozen spinach-paneer samosas. These were items that others may characterize as inessential, but I needed them.
Celeste Byers is an illustrator in California.
All photographs of the Patel family courtesy the South Asian American Digital Archive and Susan Patel.
EDITOR'S NOTE, 5/26: This article originally misstated the number of siblings in Mafat Patel's family. He is the eldest of six siblings, not five. We've updated the text to reflect these changes.