Tag Archive | "Bengali"

Bengali enclave grows in Norwood

Mohammed Hussein estimated he helped bring about 34 family members from Bangladesh to the Bronx. (JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

  During the recent Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, 62-year-old Mohammed Hussein sat in a loud, crowded Norwood apartment surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and several members of his extended family. They spoke in rapid Bengali to each other, cleaning up remnants of an early day feast, and made plans to visit the homes of several other Bangladeshi families around Bainbridge Avenue and 205th Street, which sits at the end of the D-train in the northern Bronx. “In three or four blocks, 72 of the houses are Bangladesh people,” said Hussein, who owns a bodega on nearby Perry Avenue. Hussein, who first moved to New York City from Bangladesh in 1981, has seen firsthand the rapid growth of Bangladeshi immigrants to the Norwood neighborhood of the Bronx, particularly in the last few years. Walk along Bainbridge Avenue, which cuts right at the heart of this north Bronx neighborhood, and you can spot several Bangladeshi-owned bodegas that proudly tout signs in their native language, selling mustard oils and pastes, bags of lentils, halal meats and other typical staples of Bengali cuisine. Hussein himself estimated that he helped to bring about 34 members of his own extended family from Bangladesh to the Bronx, many of who now live within a few short blocks of his home in Norwood. “There is close communication in the community,” Hussein said. “When I brought all those relatives, we want to live close to each other.” Hussein’s story is typical among Bangladeshi and other South Asian immigrants in New York City. But while Parkchester in the Bronx and Astoria and Jackson Heights in Queens have long been known for being home to the Bangladesh diaspora, Norwood is also quietly becoming an attractive destination for these recent immigrants into the city. This growth has been spurred on by cheaper rents in the north Bronx, the prospect of a new four-story mosque in the neighborhood, and a tight-knit community that works to bring relatives from Bangladesh into the neighborhood.

A Bangladeshi-owned bodega in Norwood. (JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

According to data from the U.S. Census, the Bangladesh population in the Bronx has nearly doubled between 2000 and 2009, from about 3,900 residents, to 7,500 residents. The area around the Williamsbridge Oval Park near Mosholu Parkway in particular has seen a sharp rise in the number of Bangladesh-born residents, growing nearly 500 percent in the last 10 years, while the overall population in the area has remained steady. “In the last few years, they are growing pretty quickly around the Mosholu Parkway,” said Mohammed Islam, President of the Bronx Bangladesh Society. “The rent is expensive elsewhere, so people are coming from Parkchester and Queens over there, because of relatives and family members.” Many of the local Bangladeshis in the neighborhood have similar stories. Inteshar Choudhury, a 48-year-old bodega owner on 206th Street, one of about a dozen Bangladeshi-owned bodegas crowded within the same block, came to Norwood from Bangladesh a few years ago through a family connection. He said he plans to bring many more relatives to the neighborhood as soon as he can. “After five years, when I become a citizen, I’ll apply for my relatives,” said Choudhury, adding that more than 70 percent of the Bangladeshis in the neighborhood came from a single regional district in the country, Sylhet, because of this chain of family immigration sponsorships. “That’s the way everyone comes,” Choudhury said. The growth has been so rapid among the predominantly Islamic Bangladeshis that construction began a few weeks ago to build a new four-story mosque to handle the neighborhood demand. The new mosque, which is being built on an empty lot on the corner of 206th Street and Rochambeau Avenue, is estimated to cost more than $2 million and is expected to be open for worship in two years. Until then, the Williamsbridge Oval Park often attracts hundreds of Muslims for outdoor prayer services on special holidays, like Eid. “There is a big population here now, and a personal need. Where are all the Muslim people supposed to go?” said Hussein, who serves as secretary for the expanding North Bronx Islamic Center, which now occupies a small first floor apartment building on Perry Avenue. “It’s going to attract more Bangladeshi people here. People will want to be near the mosque.” Although there were tensions in the form of racial epithets yelled by strangers on the street immediately after 9/11, many of the practicing Muslims in the Bangladeshi community said the community has for the large part been accepting of their plans for the mosque, and their growth in the community. “It’s actually a very nice neighborhood,” explained Syed Jamin Ali, president of the North Bronx Islamic Center. “Right now we have no discrimination on our mosque. We feel free.” For long-time residents of Norwood, the growth of Bangladeshis in what used to be a predominantly Irish and Jewish neighborhood doesn’t faze them - it’s simply just the latest ethnic group to call this small pocket of the Bronx home. “There have always been a lot of immigrants here. It’s nothing new,” said Ralph Martell, a resident of the neighborhood for nearly 40 years. “The Bangladeshis are very nice people.”

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From Bangladesh to the Bronx

Naan bread and meat curries are among the house's specialties; the menu varies, but goat, chicken, and duck stews are always available. BIANCA CONSUNJI/The Bronx Ink

Make no mistake: The food in Neerob, a canteen-style eatery in the Bronx, is Bangladeshi—not Indian. The Parkchester restaurant first opened over three years ago, spurred by owner Mohammed Rahman’s frustration that numerous “Indian” restaurants actually served dishes native to Bangladesh, and were staffed by Bengalis. “When you say that the food in a restaurant is Bangladeshi, no one wants to come,” said Rahman, who first came to the U.S. 20 years ago as a student. “But when you say it’s Indian, people are familiar with it. They know what to order.” He refused to comment on Indian food, saying only that although the basic principles of Bengali cooking are similar to Indian styles, Bangladeshi cooking uses different spices. For his dishes, Rahman uses less garlic and omits curry leaves—a vital ingredient in southern Indian cuisine that imparts a strong, slightly bitter flavor. “My dream is to make Bangladesh’s food mainstream,” said Rahman, whose family worked in the food service industry back in his hometown of Dhaka. “It’s authentic Bengali food.” The hole-in-the-wall establishment is located in the heart of a Bengali community along Starling Avenue, and it’s evident by the clientele who drop in for some deep-fried pakoras (South Asian vegetable fritters) and spiced milk tea. Neerob attracts a varied range of diners from all five boroughs of the city, plus more from upstate New York and New Jersey, but its regulars are by and large, Bengali. Rahman, a jovial, stocky man in his late 30s, shakes hands and exchanges a few words with every customer who comes in. Although Neerob means “quiet” in his native tongue, the atmosphere of the restaurant is anything but. Space is limited; lunchtime tables are inevitably filled with groups sharing banter over large platters of curried meat, wiping up traces of mustard oil and sauce with pillowy triangles of naan bread. Even deep in the afternoon on a Sunday, the restaurant is never empty. Fish, the staple of the Bengali diet, stars prominently on the menu. Pan-fried in mustard oil, minnow and catfish are covered with onions, chili, and cilantro, and doused with sauce. Prices don’t go over $10, so it’s a common sight to see blue-collar workers tucking into bread and curry, as well as a steady stream of professionals toting takeaway cartons of food for their families. Meat curry and a saffron-hued pilaf cost about $7.50-9 for the combination; a $1 piece of naan and a $4 dollop of bharta (a mashed dish of vegetables sometimes mixed with seafood) is a meal on its own, although $1 portions are available for curious diners who want to try different varieties. Pakoras are three for a dollar. Desserts are limited, but shôndesh, a creamy ball of cottage cheese soaked in syrup, ends the meal on a satisfying note. Customers come for the food as well as the cozy atmosphere. Taxi driver Khandoker Huq, who comes in at least twice a month for some chicken or fish curry, said, “He’s a fantastic guy and cooks good food.” Bani Chodhury, a physician from Bedford Hills, often makes the trip from Scarsdale to Starling Avenue to purchase food for her family. “During the week, I can’t always cook,” said Chodhury. “I even have Neerob cater my parties, and the best part is, they always provide a surplus of food so there’s no shortage, no matter how many guests come—and in Bangladesh, people take home food from parties.” Rahman doesn’t hesitate to pass on recipes to customers, some of them American-born Bengalis yearning to learn more about their culinary heritage. “I always tell the recipe,” he said. “I’m not losing anything. When you help somebody, they will come again.” But don’t ask him what’s in Neerob’s signature tea, a fragrant mixture of milk and spices. “That’s my only secret,” he said, winking.   Neerob, 2109 Starling Avenue (Olmstead Avenue), Parkchester, Bronx; (718) 904-7061 By subway: Castle Hill on the No. 6 train  

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Bengali immigrant savagely beaten

Police are searching for two suspects in the assault on Bimal Chanda in his Kingsbridge apartment. JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

The fatal beating of a Bengali man in his Kingsbridge building last week has shaken members of the north Bronx Bengali community, who now believe he was targeted because of his ethnicity. Bimal Chanda, a 59-year-old former taxi driver, was robbed and severely beaten on the second-floor landing of his apartment building on 190th Street just off of Fordham Road on the morning of October 29. He died in the hospital four days later from severe head trauma, leaving behind a wife and a 16-year-old daughter. Friends were shocked at the brutal assault of Chanda, who emigrated to Kingsbridge from Calcutta, India nearly 30 years ago. “He was an innocent guy who was killed intentionally,” said Mohammed Ali, a member of Community Board 7, who had been friends with Chanda for more than 10 years. “The Bengali community is very afraid of this biased crime. It’s a hate crime.” Ali said Chanda, an acute diabetic, was moving from his apartment on the third floor to a condominium in Parkchester, because of concerns about crime in the area. He and his wife were picking up the last of their possessions in the apartment when Chanda left to purchase tape from a nearby 99-cent store. That’s when two men grabbed him from behind on the staircase and struck him on the head with a metal object. The commotion could be heard throughout the apartment building, which has no security cameras or working locks on the front entrance.
“I heard a big noise,” said first-floor resident Nidia Rodriguez, whose 16-year-old son attended elementary school with Chanda’s daughter. “Then I heard his wife screaming.” Another resident on the first floor, Sara Inoa, rode in the ambulance with an unconscious Chanda and his wife Chaya, both of whom she had known for 17 years. “She came banging on my door, asking for help,” said Inoa. “He was lying on the floor with his head bleeding. For me, he was dead right there.” Ali said he doesn’t believe the incident was just a robbery, since Chanda still had his cell phone and more than $80 in his pocket when he was taken to the hospital.
“Robbers, they target us,” said Ali, referring to what he said has been a series of thefts and attacks on Bengalis in the neighborhood in the last couple of months. Ali helped organize a rally Thursday after Chanda’s funeral in Parkchester, where Chanda’s wife and daughter now live.

Police have placed notices inside the building where Chanda was killed, on 190th Street. (JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

Police have released a video of the two suspects, described as male and black, between the ages of 20 and 25, and approximately six-feet tall apiece. Notices of the attack have also gone up in the apartment building, including one written by residents demanding the landlord install cameras and fix the broken locks on the front door.
Chanda’s death is one of three homicides that occurred within one week in the 52nd precinct, which encompasses Kingsbridge, Bedford Park and Norwood. A 35-year-old man was stabbed to death in the lobby of an apartment building on Grand Avenue near Fordham Road on Tuesday morning. Police have yet to identify the victim, or any suspects in the case.
On Saturday morning at around 4 a.m., a 21-year-old man was shot in front of an apartment building on 2843 Bainbridge Avenue, near 198th Street, a few blocks from where he lived on the Grand Concourse. Detectives on the scene said that the man had been in an argument with several other men when the shots were fired. The victim, Edwin Valdez, who was shot in the chest, was still able to walk to 198th Street where he was able to receive help. He later died at Saint Barnabas Hospital. Bainbridge Avenue was cordoned off by police between 198th Street and 199th Street all morning, including a portion right in front of the Academy of Mount St. Ursula High School. Police have not identified any suspects. The early morning killing convinced some longtime residents in the Bedford Park neighborhood that it was time to leave.
“I’m moving upstate,” said Linda Matos, a mother of four, who heard the gunshots that morning from her apartment two buildings down. “The Bronx is disgusting. You’re so used to it. For my children, I say to God every day, please protect them. Police have released video footage of the suspects sought in Chanda's killing.

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