Little India around the Globe
India is an ethnic enclave containing a large population of
Indian people within a society where the majority of people
are not Indian’ - Wikipedia.On
the Global Little India section, we feature Little India in
Singapore, London (England) and Canada. You may also be interested
in the Little India in America Section
Donald' Of Gerrard Street
Navani arrived in 1972, paid $35,000 for a small unit
next door to the Naaz Theatre and turned it into the
Indian Record Shop. He boasts of having been open every
day for the past 35 years.
the beginning, says Navani, 58, "There were four
of us Naaz, a grocery store, a travel agent,
a restaurant and me. It was a pretty run-down area."
was rife in the early days, he adds. "Every second
day our front glass was broken. Every weekend there
were fights with young white thugs beating up people
with hockey sticks, saying, 'Paki go home.'"
not only endured but prospered, buying and selling 40
storefronts on the strip, prompting an Indian magazine
to dub him the "Donald Trump of Gerrard St."
record store was appraised at $1.2 million a few years
India: Six blocks, many stories
Aug 25, 2007
Prithi Yelaja, Staff Reporter, Toronto
Veronica Mal recalls, as a young girl, making the one-hour
trek by TTC with her mother and sister from their home in
Scarborough to Little India on Gerrard St. E., where one of
the first stops was to pick up a lemony Limca soda.
The strip of mom-and-pop businesses – restaurants, paan stands,
grocery and sari shops – was reminiscent of New Delhi, from
which her family emigrated in 1983.
"It reminded me of the hustle and bustle of a market
back home. As soon as you stepped out of the 506 streetcar,
you'd smell the barbecued corn, you'd hear the ghazuls and
Bollywood pop songs blaring from the shops, and your mouth
would start watering for mithai (sweets) and pani puri (a
savoury snack)," says Mal, 29.
That nostalgia is what drew Mal back to the neighbourhood
where she lives today. For a chef specializing in Indian fusion
cuisine, it's also handy to shop in the nearby desi stores
for fresh produce and spices.
Hers is one of more than a dozen stories incorporated into
an audio and contemporary visual art exhibit – Big Stories,
Little India – that opens today in storefronts along the street
and runs through Sept. 8.
"As the first neighbourhood for the community, it seems
to play an important role in people's memories of growing
up South Asian in Toronto," says Haema Sivanesan, executive
director of the South Asian Visual Artists Collective.
"It seems to be known worldwide as this unique neighbourhood.
I'm from Australia, where there's no street like this though
there's a sizable South Asian population – and they've heard
of Gerrard Street!"
The exhibit includes an audio documentary of dozens of neighbourhood
stories, in the voices of the residents themselves. Visitors
can dial their cellphones to listen to the stories in the
very spot they were recorded, to get a sense of the milieu
being described, says Gabe Sawhney, co-creator of [murmur],
which has done similar projects in other parts of Toronto
as well as Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Dublin, San Jose
Spanning six blocks between Coxwell and Greenwood Aves. and
crammed with 200 shops, Little India got its start in 1971
with the opening of the Naaz Theatre, which showed Bollywood
"At that time there were no videos or DVDs, so there
was always a big crowd at the theatre," recalls Hansa
Patel, who has worked at the public library in Little India
As part of the exhibit, artist Zaheed Mawani shot a super-8
documentary featuring 15 shopkeepers, some here since the
beginning and others, such as Abida Rafiq, who are more recent
Rafiq is among a handful of merchants who also live on the
strip – with her husband and two children in a cramped second-floor
apartment. There, she runs her Sidra Tailor shop, fashioning
salvaar kameez and sari blouses.
"We like it here because it's like living back home.
We see our own people and get our own food," says Rafiq,
43, who immigrated to Toronto in 2003.
Artist Ambereen Siddiqui took three long-exposure photographs
through the window of Rafiq's shop at night "because
that's when the street really comes alive."
Her photos will be displayed in the old Naaz theatre's poster
Born in Toronto, Siddiqui moved to Pakistan with her family
at age 3, but spent summers with relatives here. Visiting
Little India was always a highlight, she says.
Poring through city archives, Siddiqui found a group of shopkeepers
petitioned city council to rename that part of Gerrard St.
Mahatma Gandhi Way in 1988. Their request was voted down,
she says. "Some of the letters against were fairly racist
– `They should go back to their own country,' that kind of
Artists each had their own take on the area. New York-based
Brendan Fernandes designed a postcard of the street inviting
people to mail in their memories of Little India. Rashmi Varma
designed a "kitschy" window display at Sonu Saree
Palace, a longtime shop.
Still formally known as the Gerrard-India Bazaar, the strip
has expanded culturally over the years to include shopkeepers
from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Visits from South Asians who live in the U.S. have dwindled
since 9/11, and the rising Canadian dollar has also kept them
away. Competition from suburban South Asian malls in Brampton,
Mississauga and Scarborough further reduced the number of
Ashok Navani, who has run the Indian Record Shop here since
1972, shrugs off talk of Little India's imminent demise.
"This street will never die. My old customers' kids
have grown up and bring their kids here now."
Though he could comfortably retire, he has no plans to do
so, even though music downloading has cut into business sharply.
"It's become a habit. I come every day to open the store,
have chai and chat with my friends," Navani says. "I
can't live without my street. I'm addicted. It's in my blood.