Source : Press Information Bureau, Government of India >> http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=145847
Challenge for the modern world is to accept diversity as an existential reality and to configure attitudes and methodologies for dealing with it: Vice President
Addresses Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco
The Vice President of India, Shri M. Hamid Ansari has said that the challenge for the modern world is to accept diversity as an existential reality and to configure attitudes and methodologies for dealing with it. He was delivering a lecture at the Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco, today on the topic ‘Accommodating Diversity in a Globalising World: The Indian Experience’. The Moroccan University later conferred an honoris causa degree on the Vice President.
The Vice President said that Indian Muslims have lived in India’s religiously plural society for over a thousand years and that has impacted on modern India and its existential reality of a plural society on the basis of which a democratic polity and a secular state structure was put in place. He further said that the framers of our Constitution had the objective of securing civic, political, economic, social and cultural rights as essential ingredients of citizenship with particular emphasis on rights of religious minorities.
The Vice President said that the Muslim experience in modern India is that its citizens professing Islamic faith are citizens, consider themselves as such, are beneficiaries of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution, participate fully in the civic processes of the polity and seek correctives for their grievances within the system. There is no inclination in their ranks to resort to ideologies and practices of violence, he added. He further said that in countries having complex societal makeup, accommodation of diversity in political structures and socio-economic policies is not an option but an imperative necessity ignoring which can have unpleasant consequences.
The Vice President said that the Indian model was of relevance to our globalizing world because in India, an attempt was being made to look beyond the traditional virtue of tolerance and seek acceptance of diversity and adopt it as a civic virtue.
Following is the text of Vice President’s address:
“Accommodating Diversity in a Globalising World: The Indian Experience
A traveller from a distant land in mashriq-al-aqsa comes to Maghrib-al Aqsa and marvels at his good fortune. His sense of history quickly reminds him that centuries earlier a great name from this land had travelled to India and recorded in some detail his impressions about the governance, manner and customs of Indians. He attained high office and also had his share of minor misfortunes.
I refer, of course, to Sheikh Abdullah Mohammad ibn Abdullah ibn Mohammad ibn Ibralim al Lawati, better known as Ibn Batuta of Tanja.
I thank the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco, and His Excellency the President of the University, for inviting me to address the Mohammad V University today.
Even in distant India, the contribution of Moroccan intellectuals to modern thought and challenges is known and acknowledged. Names like Abdullah Al-Arui and Abid al-Jabri readily come to mind; so do the contributions of feminist writers like Fatima Mernisi and Fatima Sadiqi. The challenge in each case was that of modernity and the contemporary responses to it. Each addressed a specific aspect of the problem; the general question was posed aptly by al-Jabri: ‘How can contemporary Arab thought retrieve and absorb the most rational and critical dimensions of its tradition and employ them in the same rationalist directions as before – the direction of fighting feudalism, Gnosticism, and dependency?’
This is a rich field, amply and productively explored by contemporary thinkers in Arab lands. This included the debates on Arabism, nationalism, democracy and Islam. Much has also been written about the trauma, self or externally inflicted, experienced individually and collectively by Arab societies in the past seven decades. The misfortunes visited on Arab lands since the 19th century was in good measure a result of their proximity to Europe in the age of imperialism.
I would like to pause here and take up a related matter to draw the attention of the audience to some terminological questions. In current discussions in many places, the terms ‘Arab’ and ‘Islam’ are used together or interchangeably. But are the two synonymous? Is Arab thought synonymous with Islamic thought? Is all Arab thought Islamic or visa versa? Above all, can all Islamic thinking be attributed to Arabs?
I raise these questions because for a variety of reasons and motivations the contemporary world, particularly the West, tends to create this impression of ‘a powerful, irrational force that, from Morocco to Indonesia, moves whole societies into cultural assertiveness, political intransigence and economic influence.’ The underlying basis for this, as Aziz Al-Azmeh put it, are ‘presumptions of Muslim cultural homogeneity and continuity that do not correspond to social reality.’
Allow me to amplify. Islam is a global faith, and its adherents are in all parts of the world. The history of Islam as a faith, and of Muslims as its adherents, is rich and diversified. In different ages and in different regions the Muslim contribution to civilisation has been note worthy. In cultural terms, the history of Islam ‘is the history of a dialogue between the realm of religious symbols and the world of everyday reality, a history of the interaction between Islamic values and the historical experiences of Muslim people that has shaped the formation of a number of different but interrelated Muslim societies.’
This audience is in no need of being reminded of the truism that reasoning should proceed from facts to conclusions and should eschew a priori pronouncements.
What then are facts?
The Wikipedia indicates the world’s Muslim population in 2015 as 1.7 billion. The Pew Research Center of the United States has published country-wise and region-wise religious composition and projections for 198 countries for the period 2010 to 2050. It indicates that in 2010 Muslims numbered 1.59 billion out of which 986 million were in Asia-Pacific. It projects that four years from now, in 2020, the corresponding figures would be 1.9 billion out of which 1.13 billion (around 60 percent) would be in Asia-Pacific. The comparative figures for West Asia–North Africa would be 317 and 381 million (19.9% and 20.52%) and for Sub-Saharan Africa 248 and 329 million (15.59% and 17.31%) respectively. Within the Asia-Pacific region Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey together would account for 830 million in 2010 and 954 million in 2020.
These numbers underline the fact that an overwhelming number of Muslims of the world are non-Arabs and live in societies that are not Arab. Equally relevant is the historical fact they contributed to and benefited from the civilisation of Islam in full measure. This trend continues to this day.
The one conclusion I draw from this is that in ascertaining Islamic and Muslim perceptions on contemporary happenings, the experiences and trends of thinking of the non-Arab segments of large Muslim populations in the world assume an importance that cannot be ignored. These segments include countries with Muslim majorities (principally Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey) as also those where followers of the Islamic faith do not constitute a majority of the population (India, China, and Philippines).
Amongst both categories, India is sui generis. India counts amongst its citizens the second largest Muslim population in the world. It numbers 180 million and accounts for 14.2 percent of the country’s total population of 1.3 billion. Furthermore, religious minorities as a whole (Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis or Zoroastrians) constitute 19.4 percent of the population of India.
India’s interaction with Islam and Muslims began early and bears the imprint of history. Indian Muslims have lived in India’s religiously plural society for over a thousand years, at times as rulers, at others as subjects and now as citizens. They are not homogenous in racial or linguistic terms and bear the impact of local cultural surroundings, in manners and customs, in varying degrees.
Through extensive trading ties before the advent of Islam, India was a known land to the people of the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, and western Asia and was sought after for its prosperity and trading skills and respected for its attainments in different branches of knowledge. Thus Baghdad became the seeker, and dispenser, of Indian numerals and sciences. ThePanchatantra was translated and became Kalila wa Dimna. Long before the advent of Muslim conquerors, the works of Al-Jahiz, Ibn Khurdadbeh, Al-Kindi, Yaqubi and Al-Masudi testify to it in ample measure. Alberuni, who studied India and Indians more thoroughly than most, produced a virtual encyclopedia on religion, rituals, manners and customs, philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. He commenced his great work by highlighting differences, but was careful enough ‘to relate, not criticize’.
Over centuries of intermingling and interaction, an Indo-Islamic culture developed in India. Many years back, an eminent Indian historian summed it up in a classic passage:
‘It is hardly possible to exaggerate the extent of Muslim influence over Indian life in all departments. But nowhere else is it shown so vividly and so picturesquely, as in customs, in intimate details of domestic life, in music, in the fashion of dress, in the ways of cooking, in the ceremonial of marriage, in the celebration of festivals and fairs, and in the courtly institutions and etiquette’.
Belief, consciousness and practice became a particularly rich area of interaction. Within the Muslim segment of the populace, there was a running tussle between advocates of orthodoxy and those who felt that living in a non-homogenous social milieu, the pious could communicate values through personal practice. In this manner the values of faith, though not its theological content, reached a wider circle of the public. This accounted for the reach and popularity of different Sufi personalities in different periods of history and justifies an eminent scholar’s observation that ‘Sufism took Islam to the masses and in doing so it took over the enormous and delicate responsibility of dealing at a personal level with a baffling variety of problems.’
It also produced a convergence or parallelism; the Sufi trends sought commonalities in spiritual thinking and some Islamic precepts and many Muslim practices seeped into the interstices of the Indian society and gave expression to a broader and deeper unity of minds expressive of the Indian spiritual tradition. The cultural interaction was mutually beneficial and an Islamic scholar of our times has acknowledged ‘an incontrovertible fact that Muslims have benefited immensely from the ancient cultural heritage of India.’
I mention this because I am aware, but dimly, about the role of Sufi movements and ‘zawiyas’ in the history of Morocco. There is, in my view, room for comparative studies of Sufi practices in Morocco and India.
It is this backdrop that has impacted on modern India and its existential reality of a plural society on the basis of which a democratic polity and a secular state structure was put in place.
The framers of our Constitution had the objective of securing civic, political, economic, social and cultural rights as essential ingredients of citizenship. Particular emphasis was placed on rights of religious minorities. Thus in the section on Fundamental Rights ‘all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.’ In addition, every religious denomination shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, to manage its own affairs in matters of religion, and to acquire and administer movable and immovable property. Furthermore, all religious or linguistic minorities shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. A separate section on Fundamental Duties of citizens enjoins every citizen ‘to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities’ and also ‘to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.’
Given the segmented nature of society and unequal economy, the quest for substantive equality, and justice, remains work in progress and concerns have been expressed from time to time about its shortfalls and pace of implementation. The corrective lies in our functioning democracy, its accountability mechanisms including regularity of elections at all levels from village and district councils to regional and national levels, the Rule of Law, and heightened levels of public awareness of public issues.
The one incontrovertible fact about the Muslim experience in modern India is that its citizens professing Islamic faith are citizens, consider themselves as such, are beneficiaries of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution, participate fully in the civic processes of the polity and seek correctives for their grievances within the system. There is no inclination in their ranks to resort to ideologies and practices of violence.
The same diversity of historical experience, and the perceptions emanating from it, is to be found in Indonesia that has the world’s largest population of Muslims and where two Islamist parties – Nahdatul Ulema and Muhammadiyah function legally, have large memberships, and participate in political activities including local and national elections. On a visit to Jakarta a few months back, I had occasion to solicit their views on contemporary debates on Political Islam. They said Islam in Indonesia has united with the culture of the people and their Islamic traditions have adapted themselves to local conditions. They felt Indonesian Muslims are moderate in their outlook, that Islam does not advocate extremism, and that radicalization of Islam is harmful and does not benefit the community.
Both instances cited above indicate that in countries having complex societal makeup, accommodation of diversity in political structures and socio-economic policies is not an option but an imperative necessity ignoring which can have unpleasant consequences.
I come back to the principal theme of this talk. Why is the Indian model of relevance to our globalizing world?
Globalization has many facets – economic, political and cultural. All necessitate the emergence of a set of norms, values and practices that are universally accepted. A sociologist has defined it as ‘the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole.’ An obvious implication of this would be assimilation and homogenization. In a world of intrinsically diverse societies at different levels of development, this could only result in denial of their diversity and imposition of uniformity. Such an approach can only result in conflict.
The challenge for the modern world is to accept diversity as an existential reality and to configure attitudes and methodologies for dealing with it. In developing such an approach, the traditional virtue of tolerance is desirable but insufficient; our effort, thinking and practices have to look beyond it and seek acceptance of diversity and adopt it as a civic virtue.
We in India are attempting it, cannot yet say that we have succeeded, but are committed to continue the effort. We invite all right-minded people to join us in this endeavour.
1.Sundar Pichai, CEO – Google
2. Satya Nadella, CEO – Microsoft
3. Shantanu Narayen, CEO – Adobe
4. Sanjay Mehrotra, SanDisk Founder-President-CEO
5. Ajaypal Singh Banga, President-CEO of MasterCard
6. Indra Nooyi, CEO – PepsiCo
7. Francisco D’Souza, CEO – Cognizant
8. Dinesh C. Paliwal, Chairman-President-CEO of Harman International Industries
9. Ravichandra K. Saligram, CEO of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers
10. Vikram Pandit, Chairman of TGG Group and ex-CEO of Citigroup
11. Abhi Talwalkar, Board Director – Lam Research and ex-CEO of LSI Corporation
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/07/04/magazine/a-patel-motel-cartel.html -By Tunku Varadarajan
‘You’re getting the last room in Huntsville,” the man at the front desk rasped. I was in the heart of a certain kind of Texas — the kind I’d probably only visit in pursuit of a story — and the room was a godsend. I thanked the man and we shook hands — not a gesture you often see enacted between owner and customer at the front desk of an Econo Lodge. But he was Indian and so am I, and it was our little way of touching base.
This was two years ago. As I was then new to America, I asked him bluntly what on earth had brought him to a place like Huntsville. My naked curiosity amused him. ”Why shouldn’t I be here?” he said. Indians like him were everywhere, especially in places like Huntsville. Go 15 miles west and you’d find a motel run by his cousin. Ninety miles south and there was another cousin in another motel. An uncle had a place, too, somewhere in Georgia. Wherever there was a motel in the United States, he said — and I mistook this assertion for hyperbole — there were likely to be people from India running it. The statement, I learned later, was not all that far from the truth.
America’s motels constitute what could be called a nonlinear ethnic niche: a certain ethnic group becomes entrenched in a clearly identifiable economic sector, working at jobs for which it has no evident cultural, geographical or even racial affinity.
I don’t mean Italians owning pizzerias, or Japanese people running judo schools. I mean, to use an obvious example, the Korean dominance of the deli-and-grocery sector in New York — a city where the Chinese run most laundries and Sri Lankans, in case you didn’t know this, run most porn-video stores. Or the Arabs in greater Detroit, who have a stranglehold on gas stations, or the Vietnamese who monopolize nail salons in Los Angeles. Farther afield, I could mention London’s taxi drivers, sharp-tongued in their big black cars, many of whom are Jews from the city’s East End; or the security guards outside New Delhi’s more affluent residences, virtually all of whom are Nepalese; or the prostitutes in the United Arab Emirates, who are so often women from Russia.
According to the latest figures from the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (A.A.H.O.A.), slightly more than 50 percent of all motels in the United States are now owned by people of Indian origin. Pull off any Interstate highway and look for a cheap bed for the night and there is a better-than-even chance that the motel you will curl up in belongs to Indians. (Looking at the broader spectrum of all hotels of any sort in the United States — from trendy boutique hotels in Manhattan to mom-and-pop outfits in the boondocks — almost 37 percent are owned by Indians.) If you bear in mind that Indians constitute less than 1 percent of America’s population, the conquest of this economic niche appears extraordinary.
Look a bit closer and the picture is even more arresting: about 70 percent of all Indian motel owners — or a third of all motel owners in America — are called Patel, a surname that indicates they are members of a Gujarati Hindu subcaste. ”There’s a thing our parents tell everyone, so don’t yawn if you’ve heard it already,” says Mit Amin, an urbane 39-year-old who owns the Beverly Hills Inn, a chic bed-and-breakfast in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. ”In some American small towns they think ‘Patel’ is an Indian word for ‘motel.’ Can you blame them? As for me, I’m glad I’m called Amin. Wouldn’t you want to be called Brown if the rest of the world was called Smith?”
Patels and Amins, however, are not as far apart as Smiths and Browns might be. They share the same slot in the elaborate Indian caste structure, with its four principal castes and myriad subcastes: they are both vaishyas, or traders, who were once employed to calculate the tithes that were owed to medieval kings by farmers in Gujarat, an Indian state on the Arabian Sea, where their origins lie. Most Indians believe that these people have commerce in their blood. And the Patels themselves seem to believe it, too.
‘Patels are maybe the shrewdest businesspeople in the world,” chuckled Lata Patel, who with her husband, Pankaj (”Call me P.J.”), runs the Budget Inn in Jasper, Ga., a mountain town of some 3,000 mostly white inhabitants about an hour’s drive from Atlanta. Lata, 44, is winsome and lively; when dressed in a formal silk sari she must surely be the most glamorous woman in Jasper. Theirs is a plain little motel, built in the local architectural vernacular, with a gently sloping gray slate roof, a facade of muted pink and a well-tended grass verge. At the time of my midmorning visit, Lata was in slacks and a shirt, addressing a female client as ”honey” and buzzing about the front desk with instructions for a dozy young cleaner.
This modest motel is where Lata and P.J. say they’ve found their ”American dream” — a phrase they used often, and unselfconsciously. But why? Why did they, and thousands of other Patels in America, seek their fortune in the lodging niche? Why not hardware stores, pet shops, drugstores?
Hasmukh P. Rama, 51, is the chairman of the American Hotel and Motel Association, the trade group representing America’s $85.6 billion lodging industry. Rama is tiny, only 5 feet 3 inches tall, and his pate is as smooth as a brand-new cricket ball. His surname used to be Patel, but the family decided to adopt a new one ”because Patel, as you can see, is a very common name.” He is the first Asian to head the 89-year-old organization, and at a recent Indian hoteliers’ convention in Atlanta he worked the room like a politician at a rally. Rama seemed like the man who could explain the motel-Patel phenomenon. But his answers to my questions, it turned out, seemed more calculated to promote a certain myth that successful hotel-owning Indians have begun to spin for public consumption.
”You must know the ancient Sanskrit phrase, Atithi devo bhava — The guest is God.’ Hospitality is in our culture,” he told me. ”It comes naturally to us. It is inherent in the nature of the Indian. It is natural for us to be in the lodging sector.” If that is so, I asked, how was it that hardly any of these people ran hotels before they came to America? ”It’s all about opportunity and example,” Rama replied sagely, starting into a speech about hard work. He related how he arrived in America in 1969 and noticed how ”our people” were buying motels; by 1973, he had bought one himself. Now his company, JHM Enterprises, operates 23 hotels in six states and one in India. Last year, his family created the Rama Scholarship Fund for the American Dream, with a donation of $1,000,001. (Hindus consider gifts of money ending in the numeral 1 to be especially auspicious.) The benefaction is intended to help students from minorities go to schools for hotel management.
It’s an inspiring tale, and Rama seems to want me to multiply it by many thousands to explain the Indian dominance of the motel business. But it isn’t quite that simple. ”If you look at an example of a domination of an economic niche by an ethnic group,” says Thomas Espenshade, a professor of sociology at the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, ”the general story is told in terms of the pioneers and the followers. This is so whether you look at Indian motel owners, Korean grocers, Chinese laundries.”
In this instance, the very earliest years are hazy. But the first Indian motel owner in the United States is said to have been an illegal immigrant named Kanjibhai Desai, who managed to buy the Goldfield Hotel in downtown San Francisco in the early 1940’s. By the end of that decade, there was still only a handful of Indian-owned motels, one of them owned by Bhulabhai Vanmalibhai Patel — whose grandson Pramod Patel is today a hotelier in the Bay Area; his company’s portfolio includes Holiday Inns, Ramadas and Comfort Inns.
According to Pramod, his grandfather left his Gujarati village in 1949, at the age of 29, for a better life in America. ”Only 100 Indians a year were allowed into the country in those days,” says Pramod. ”My grandfather came, met Desai and decided to copy him. So he leased the Auburn Hotel in downtown San Francisco that same year.”
By the 1960’s, Pramod estimates, there were still only 60 or 70 Indian-owned motels, mostly in California. Evolving immigration laws helped the next wave of pioneers make their mark in the 1970’s. At the time, explains David Mumford, the president of Mumford Company, a hotel brokerage in Newport News, Va., ”many American motel owners, people I call Mr. and Mrs. Jones, were aging. Motels were a postwar thing, and by the mid-70’s a lot of the people who owned them were of retiring age. Their kids were not interested in the business.” The concurrent global oil crisis meant people were taking fewer driving vacations, which hurt the motel business. Property prices were depressed. ”By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, hundreds of motels were up for sale,” Mumford continues.
So why were these Indians attracted to them? I got a more prosaic answer to that question from Vilpesh Patel, the owner of the 85-room Flamingo Inn in Windsor, Conn. ”Technically, it’s easy to run. You don’t need fluent English, just the will to work long hours,” he says. ”And it’s a business that comes with a house — you don’t have to buy a separate house. Another important thing,” he adds, ”is the cash flow. We like that.” Vilpesh was a plain-speaker. True, the guest is God. But the guest is also gold — gold enough for Indian motel ownership to spiral upward, year by year.
Buying a motel, even one that’s in the red, usually requires a substantial down payment, one beyond the reach of most new immigrants. That, however, is one key to how this particular niche was captured. The down payment was seldom a problem for a prospective Indian purchaser, who was often able to turn to a network of relatives and friends to help him out. The story of Lata and P.J., for example, is not exactly the hardscrabble tale associated with some immigrant groups.
Following an arranged marriage in 1976 in the Gujarati town of Nadiad, they left for the United States, but not out of desperation or a lack of options at home. They left behind enviable social status; their families employed cooks, watchmen, sweepers, a chauffeur. P.J.’s family owned a marble mine. ”We had a comfortable life in India,” he says. They simply wanted independence — freedom from the web of their extended family, with its pressures to share and to conform — and the simple pleasure of living as a nuclear family. In 1991, the Jasper motel’s owner (also an Indian) offered P.J. the place for $150,000; the couple cobbled together the $20,000 down payment from their own savings and loans from friends and family. ”It was not hard for us to do.”
All of this is not to suggest that the road was an easy one. A significant number of motel owners have come not directly from India but from East Africa. The British brought thousands of Indians to their colonies there in the last century to serve as laborers and traders. They stayed on and flourished economically after these colonies won their independence. But the political and racial tensions of postcolonial Africa made nomads of them yet again. About 70,000 were expelled from Uganda by Gen. Idi Amin in 1972, and the majority resettled in Britain. In time, many would move to the United States, joining an unusual wave of well-educated Indian immigrants to this country that had begun in the mid-1960’s — doctors, academics and professionals — and peaked in the late 1980’s. By then, Indian immigrants were predominantly nonprofessionals.
Vilpesh Patel’s father, Jayantibhai, was one of those who had to migrate against his will. He used to be a prosperous dry-goods merchant in Lira, a town in central Uganda. In 1972, when Jayantibhai was 32, Idi Amin ordered the confiscation of all Asian property, stripping the owners of their Ugandan nationality. After a few months in a refugee camp in Austria, where he was separated from his wife and young children, Jayantibhai Patel ended up working as a bus conductor in London. Things changed for the family in 1989. Responding to the urgings of relatives, Jayantibhai moved with his family to America. ”With some help from my uncles,” says his son Vilpesh, ”and with the money we had from selling our house in London, Dad bought a motel.”
In the earlier days of the motel phenomenon, Indians tended mostly to buy mom-and-pop establishments. ”They liked the independence,” Vilpesh Patel told me. ”We Patels, we Gujaratis, we don’t like working for other people.” But there were other, less romantic factors keeping Indians out of the franchise motel chains. According to Mit Amin, an independent hotelier himself, ”The big brands didn’t really want us.”
Indeed, there was a time when Indians were the underdogs of the lodging sector. Mike Patel, the industry-relations chairman of the A.A.H.O.A., explains that some insurance companies thought Patels were scam artists who bought, insured and burned down the property and cashed in. He says that after a couple of fires in Tennessee in the early 1980’s, Indian moteliers had trouble getting insurance coverage. The association was formed, he adds, ”in response to that prejudice.” It began with 160 members.
The first generation of Indian hotel owners, in a manner consistent with many an emergent immigrant group, scrimped, went without, darned old socks and never took a holiday. They did this not merely to save money, but also because thrift is part of a larger moral framework, one that regards all nonessential expenditure as wasteful and unattractive. It’s an attitude buttressed by a puritanical aversion to frills and frivolities, one that has its roots as much in the kind of Hinduism that the Patels practice as in their historical tradition as commercial perfectionists. You can hear it in Lata Patel’s description of the work that went into updating and improving her property on the road to quadrupling its annual business.
Today, the A.A.H.O.A. has 5,000 names on its rolls, plus seven full-time staff members and an annual budget of $4.5 million. The market value of properties owned by association members is $38 billion. They pay $725 million a year in property taxes and employ 800,000 people. ”The hotel establishment once didn’t want to know about us,” chortles Amin. ”But now we are the establishment.”
That kind of success has, inevitably, bred resentment in some quarters. In some parts of the rural South, white competitors have been known to add a potent and less-than-subtle phrase to their motel signs: ”American-Owned.” Many of the Indian owners I spoke with acknowledge that they are aware of such attitudes, but add pragmatically, as Mike Patel puts it, they ”have learned to live with that sort of prejudice.”
”It doesn’t get us down,” he insists. ”If we survived Idi Amin, a couple of redneck motel owners aren’t going to bother us much. In any case, our motels are American-owned, too. We’re Patels, and Americans.”
Pride in the conquest of a niche has for some evolved into a curious and not very enlightened machismo. Again and again these owners will boast that they got ahead by working harder than anyone else. A senior figure in the ”Indian motel brotherhood” — his words — puts it this way: ”O.K. So your Koreans work hard. Your Chinese work hard. I’d even say that some other ethnic groups work hard, on a good day. But absolutely no one works as hard as we do. I don’t want to make a racial thing out of this, but there isn’t anyone who can match us for effort, dedication, stamina on the job.”
This Braggadocio aside, what else has kept other hard-working immigrant groups from breaking into the clearly lucrative motel sector? For starters, other groups have muscled in — Taiwanese innkeepers in Southern California, Iraqi Christian motel owners in the Detroit area — just not in such great numbers. The most significant reason early on was probably a combination of the idea that the motel sector didn’t look terribly attractive when Indians started buying in, and those who were buying were able to assemble unusual amounts of cash from an extended group of relatives and friends. The unique kinship ties in the group unquestionably help in other ways — for instance, a kind of bush-telegraph network of Indian moteliers often relays breaking news of properties for sale to other members of the same community, observes Mike Patel.
Eventually, the mere perception of dominance becomes self-fulfilling. A number of moteliers to whom I spoke said that white American hotel brokers would often sound out Indians first if they have a property up for sale. Mumford, who has been in the brokerage business for 21 years, said that this was ”completely natural, given the track record of the Asian Indians.” His company has a database of more than 7,000 ”buyer-and-seller prospects” — about 1 in 4 of whom have Patel as their surname.
”When we have a motel that comes up for sale, my team sorts the questions and decides who a prospective buyer might be. If it’s a motel with less than 60 rooms, the likely buyers we identify will be Indian 98 times out of 100,” he told me. ”And why not? They run them better than anyone else.”
Such is the world that now works to the benefit of Mit Amin, the bed-and-breakfast owner in Atlanta, who is the modern face of the Indian hotelier. He grew up in Manchester, in the north of England, where his parents moved from Kenya in 1964. His father came to America and bought a motel in 1982, but Amin himself was reluctant to leave his then home, London. Finally he gave in, moving to Hickory, N.C., to manage one of his family’s properties. ”It was Hicksville,” he tells me. ”I kid you not, mate — the whole town sat out on the porch in rocking chairs.”
Nevertheless, in 1990 he purchased the Beverly Hills Inn in Buckhead for $713,000. ”The guy wanted $100,000 down payment. I got $50,000 from my dad and $50,000 from my in-laws. The place is now worth about $2 million.” Amin works hard — sometimes 15 hours a day” — but to tool around Buckhead with him in his shiny black Mercedes convertible is to see the older, frugal ways giving way to a distinctly Western joie de vivre.
”Why not?” he asks. ”I like to live well, to spend money. It’s not an extravagant life style. I’m enjoying the fruits, but I’m not stripping the garden bare!” He also owns another Mercedes and a BMW — as well as a Rolls-Royce. ”An old-fashioned Patel would say, Why so many cars? But I’m just enjoying my achievements, right? It’s a generation thing,” he says. ”My dad never went out to dinner, never indulged himself. He saved every penny. That’s how he had $50,000 to give me.
”I’ll tell you something, though,” Amin adds. ”If my dad had enjoyed the fruits of his labor, I’d have been in trouble. Big trouble.”