When the Festival of India wraps tonight in uptown's Blumenthal Center, many of Charlotte's Indian families will head home to south Mecklenburg, where a growing population is bringing new businesses, recreation and culture.
Lal Vishin, president of the India Association of Charlotte, estimates about a third of Charlotte's estimated 4,000 Indian families – about 1,300 – live in south Mecklenburg. And the number is growing.
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He estimates those numbers are up from about 100 native India families in Charlotte when he moved here 30 years ago.
Vishin, who lives in Mint Hill, says south Meck is attractive to everyone for some of the same reasons: “It's a desirable area with great property values and shopping.”
This vibrant community is visible in many ways.
Asha Patel, 11, and Simona Gupta, 12, recently staged a classical Indian dance recital at the Jewish Community Center on Providence Road for friends and family from the U.S. and India.
Matthews is home to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple on Margaret Wallace Road.
Saathe, a monthly magazine for the Indian community in the Carolinas, operates out of Charlotte and circulates widely through south Mecklenburg.
Several south Mecklenburg businesses cater to the Indian community, including about a half dozen restaurants.
Bright Mart in Pineville is a popular shop. It carries food from all over India, rents Bollywood movies on DVD and offers other specialty items as well as fresh produce.
“The Indian community in this area in the last three years has grown drastically,” says Haresh Mehta, owner of Bright Mart.
About eight new families a week come in to shop, he says. He expects about 4,000 new families in the next four years. That's one reason he says he's planning to double the size of his shop on Polk Street in Pineville to about 10,000 square feet, making his store the largest Indian grocery in the Carolinas.
“This is a very attractive area,” says Mehta, who moved to Pineville three years ago. “There is nice weather and low taxes. I can sell my home in New Jersey and buy three businesses here.”
Three months ago, another shop called Indian Grocery opened less than a mile away on the same street.
Indian families say they hold onto their culture in other ways, too.
Asha Patel and Simona Gupta, the young dancers, have studied an ancient Indian dance form called Kathak for half their lives. Kathak means “the art of storytelling.”
The girls, whose families live in Providence Country Club, trained all summer for their big day. They practiced as much as 14 hours a week, often wearing two pounds of brass bells, called ghungroo, around each ankle. Their costumes were imported from India. The recital, with their teacher Rituparna Mukherjee, marked the pair's graduation to the next level of dance training.
“A lot of what I've learned about my culture came from dance class,” says Asha. Her parents are second generation Americans and taught her Gujarati, a northern Indian language.
“I've learned a lot of new (Hindi) words in the songs we dance to,” says Simona, whose parents immigrated from New Delhi.
Asha's mother, Lena Patel, says she feels blessed to “always have the best of both worlds.”
“The best this country has to offer and all the opportunities here,” she says, “but we carry with us the best part of our Indian culture and heritage.”