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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Little India Businesses Get Boost As Chicagoans Prepare To Celebrate Diwali

Customers are snapping up jewelry, clothing and snacks at Devon Avenue shops — but Chicago's version of Diwali is still a lot more "low key" than what you'll see in other places, locals said.

Sualeha Ovais showcases clothing at Taj Sari Palace.
Mrinali Dhembla/Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE INDIA — Businesses in Little India are booming as Chicagoans prepare to usher in Diwali, the festival of lights.

Store owners in Little India — a stretch of Devon Avenue in West Rogers Park — have ramped up their stock and said they’ve seen foot traffic visibly higher since early October as people prepare for the holiday. It is celebrated Thursday.

Diwali is a major five-day festival rejoicing the victory of good over evil, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. People welcome the holiday season by cleaning their house; buying clothes; making rangolis, or floor patterns crafted with colored powders; and putting up string lights and traditional lamps, called diyas.

Nazia Banu, a worker at MJ Outlet, an apparel store at 2351 W. Devon Ave. that sells traditional South Asian outfits, said many people have come in to buy colorful traditional clothing, like kurtas and sherwanis, in the past 15 days.

Sualeha Ovais, the owner of Taj Sari Palace at 2658 W. Devon Ave., said “customer turnout” has been good for her clothing business, too.

A manager at the Patel Brothers grocery store at 2610 W. Devon Ave. said it’s benefited from the influx of customers, with hundreds coming daily. The shop is offering discounts on things like cashews and saffron, which are popular grocery purchases for the festival.

At Joyalukkas jewelry, 2642 W. Devon Ave., the staff ordered new jewelry designs and more gold coins to keep up with the demand that comes with Diwali, said sales associate Pali Das.

But Diwali in Chicago is quieter than the celebrations in India, where the festival is a massive event, locals said.

“In the U.S., you don’t even get to know that it’s Diwali,” said Imran Chadrawala, who works at Gandhi Electronics, 2358 W. Devon Ave.

Rajat Shail, who was visiting the area to grab a meal with his wife, said the festival is more “low-key” because there’s no large recognition of Diwali across the city.

But Chicago’s Diwali celebrations have unique positives: The city’s Pakistani and Indian communities come together to celebrate, whereas they’re separated in other places, said Shail, who’s originally from New Delhi in India.

“In India, we don’t interact with Pakistanis. But here, there are no barriers,” Shail said.

The British left the Indian subcontinent in 1947, dividing the territories they’d colonized into two areas: India and Pakistan. That created a stark border and years of animosity, with the countries divided heavily on politics and religion while enjoying a shared culture and heritage.

Despite this rift, Indians and Pakistanis coexist with bonhomie in Chicago — and many Pakistani business owners along the Little India strip are helping their Indian neighbors prepare for Diwali, locals said.

“This is a South Asian store and represents India and Pakistan alike,” said Taj Sari’s owner, Ovais, who is originally from Karachi, Pakistan. “We believe in diversity and inclusivity, and [we] welcome all groups of people.”

To mark Diwali, the Shree Ganesh Temple of Chicago will hold a grand Diwali pooja, or prayer, at 5 p.m. Thursday. The temple is at 2545 W. Devon Ave.

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