Local Spotlight

Desi Living, Houston-Style

In this week's feature, we explore the fast-growing Hillcroft area, home to Houston's newly designated Mahatma Gandhi District. Although most of the history of the area is told through the eyes of Raja Sweets -- the oldest continually operating Indian restaurant in Texas, it so happens -- I interviewed many other people for the feature. Each had their own fascinating stories to tell, and not all of them made it in.

One of the people who helped me tell Hillcroft's story was Lynn Ghose Cabrera, who -- along with her friend Aditi Raghuram -- writes a blog called Desi Living, which monitors the pulse of the South Asian social scene. In the ten years that she's become involved with Houston's Indian -- or Desi, a catch-all term that encompasses Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis -- community, Ghose Cabrera has witnessed the massive change that's taken place along this short stretch of road between Highway 59 and Westpark.

From only a handful of Indian stores like Raja Sweets, Patel Brothers Grocers and Karat 22 in 1985 to the dense accumulation of South Asian businesses that line the street today, the Mahatma Gandhi District is a thing of wonder in Houston -- and not just because it draws visitors (and their money!) from across our own state and several others. It's a testament to how adaptable and hospitable Houston is as a city.

It welcomed Ghose Cabrera in 2001, where she was stunned to find such a large concentration of sari shops, grocers, restaurants, music stores and other businesses catering to the Desi community.

And in the latest post on Desi Living, Ghose Cabrera discusses in depth exactly how vital the Mahatma Gandhi District was to her feeling a sense of belonging in Houston, how it quickly and easily became home.

Imagine this:

You are far from anything familiar and dear to you, in a new city you will learn to love, and eventually call 'home.' The heat and humidity is much like the place you left, where your family still lives.

In a corner of the city, you discover a place where merchants are selling the food and flavors you grew up eating, the food that nourished you in your childhood. Shop windows display clothing of every imaginable vibrant hue, adorned with the most delicate beading and embroidery - fit for a wedding, perhaps even royalty.

It's a street lined with silk and sequins, dripping with diamonds and gold, redolent of spices and incense.

Ghose Cabrera's personal story of the Mahatma Gandhi District's growth is worth a full and thorough read. In a way, it functions almost as a companion piece to this week's feature, a happy and welcome accident. Give them both a read, then drive out to Hillcroft and treat yourself to lunch in one of Houston's most cosmopolitan districts.

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Katharine Shilcutt