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: Wonderful Story In Today's Messenger On The Saini Family  ( 4192 )
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« : December 24, 2010, 12:05:48 PM »

The following story written by Lisa Boucher, St. Albans Messenger Correspondent appeared in the Friday, December 24, 2010 Edition of The St. Albans Messenger - Lisa did have a nice photo of the family with it and she may share that with us.  Lisa does relate a few stories of things that Parkash has done here in the community to help people out.  I will relate a story of my own and that is when he first opened, Maryann and Little Sammy wanted to play cards, but they needed two decks of cards, so I went down to the village and tried to pick some up at Nan's, but they did not carry them.  Parkash told me, "I've got a deck of cards here, you bring them home and use them and when you are done with them you can bring them back.  Parkash and his family are truly a wonderful family and I am so happy that Lisa has done a story on them, so that we can all know them just a little better.

Saini Family Members pose in their store.  From left to right, are: Parkash, Surjit, Kunal, Geetanjali, Mareena (In Back), Ravinder (In Front), Shivram and Karan.

From India, but they're all loving Fairfax
By LISA M. BOUCHER -  Messenger Correspondent
FAIRFAX — Living in the same community for many years, the things you encounter daily tend to become part of the landscape to the point that it seems everything has always been the way it is.

The appearance of "always having been there," is indicative to assimilating well into your surroundings, having made any transition seamless.

Thus is the case of the Saini (sayn-ee) family of Nan's Mobile. This hardworking family of five arrived in the dark of night in May 2001 from Queens, NY. and moved into a place on Colonial Road, then very sparely populated.

They had purchased the store from Nancy Pigeon, on a whim — a gamble of life savings. It was one of several they had been looking at and decided, for no special reason, to take it. "We moved here in the middle of the night, so when we were coming up, we were like, 'Dad where are the buildings?' We had no clue," said Geetanjali Saini, about the family's arrival.

"None of us kids even knew Vermont existed, you get stuck in the city, and you don't know what's out there, really," she added.

Geetanjali (ge-TAWN-juh-lee), or Geena as she has been called since arriving in Fairfax, and the rest of her family, Parkash (par-kawsh), her father, Ravinder (rah-vin-der), her mother, and Mareena and Shivram (shiv-rahm) her younger sister and brother, have all assimilated to life in the small town quite well in the last 10 years.

With a few small adjustments — with the exception of Mareena, employees and patrons of Nan's Mobile were unable to pronounce the unusual names and the family graciously took on nicknames that are easier for others to say.

"When I first came here, more people called me Peter than Parkash, now more people call me Parkash than Peter," said Parkash, clearly pleased that his chosen community has accepted him.


He had asked Pigeon, in advance, if he could come up and pump gas for her to get to know the place a little before moving his family where they had no friends or family connections and knew nothing about the school or community. The former Mobil owner declined the request, but willingly stayed on to assist with the transition and continued as a bookkeeper for nine years — leaving in June, 2010.

The young family had been lived in Queens for approximately 11 years before moving to Vermont for a better life. Parkash had come to the U.S. from India in, early February, 1990. He recalls the day as one he will "never forget." He landed at JFK airport with only $100 in his pocket and there was a light snow falling.

His wife, Ravinder, and youngest daughter, Geetanjali, came with him, while eldest daughter Ranjan (ron-jon) remained in India with his brother. He said they weren't sure what they were coming to and Ranjan was old enough to stay behind. She came to the U.S. few years later.
The following spring, in May 1991, Parkash's mother, Suhagwanti (soo-hawg-won-tee) came from India and moved into the same building in Queens. Suhagwanti has lived in Vermont since 2001, she's 89 now and an avid fan of "The Price is Right."

She watches it every day, though she doesn't understand English, according to Parkash, she says she "knows who wins."

The presence of this elder in the Saini household has kept their native tongue alive and fluent and has been the impetus for a very fluid bilingual existence among all members of the family. They freely move back and forth between English and their native language frequently in a single conversation. Geetanjali amazingly speaks without a trace of an accent in either language.

The entrepreneur operated a Dunkin Donuts franchise in Mid-town Manhattan and his growing family (Mareena and Shivram were born in the U.S.) lived in a high-rise in Queens, along with extended family members, which included Ravinder's seven sisters and families.

"All us kids did was go up and down, up and down," Geetanjali fondly recalls laughing about the antics of childhood with her cousins living in the same building. "There were 17 kids born at Elmer's hospital."

In 2004, Ravinder's sister Surjit (sir-JEET) and her children, Saveta, Amit, and Karan came to Vermont and began working in the store. All of the older children have graduated from Bellows Free Academy, Fairfax and gone on to college. Shivram has two more years and Karan, the youngest of the'dan is in the eighth grade. The two families are so close; it's hard not to think of them as siblings.

Shivram, the first (and only) son was named Shivram Singh, after a Hindu Gods, a loosely held custom in India. Shiv (Shiva) and Ram (Rama), Singh is a commonly used last name in some religions.

"I had his name chosen before he was born," said Parkash. The family explained that while there are some naming customs in India, they are not mandatory.

It was of great importance to Parkash, after purchasing the store, that the community see him for what his is — a business owner with a strong work ethic who wants only what's best for his family and to help others.

He has often been seen pumping gas and asking patrons if he can get them something from the store. No job is considered too menial for family or Parkash himself to do.

He strongly believes in helping people. He relays a story about a young woman from Canada who came in one day and had filled her car with gas, but the card she gave to pay didn't work (it was a Canadian card of some sort) and she didn't have enough cash to cover what she had purchased. The woman was told to pay the next time she was passing through.

Another time a couple's vehicle broke down and near closing time they were still waiting for a ride. They asked to use the phone and wanted to stay past 10 p.m. Parkash, of course, agreed without hesitation and allowed the couple to stay in the store on the snowy evening and allowed the free use of his phone. They called family in Canada and were allowed to wait until someone arrived for them.

Parkash said people thought he was crazy for allowing others the free use of his phone and to stay in the store with him like that after hours, because you just never know. However, this kindred spirit from India was not convinced by the naysayers and remains true to his personal doctrine of helping people in a moment of need.

"I came to the town and nobody knows me, not even Nancy Pigeon, but I didn't get any kind of discrimination, when I went to the bank or when I went to the town office," said Parkash.

"It's not like that in New York City. Of course, some people thought we were Muslims from Pakistan — this was right after 9/11, but we're not, we're from India."

It is important to the Sainis that everyone knows that they are from India and are Hindu, because as they collectively said, "A lot of people are still confused and think we're Muslims from Pakistan, which we are not."

The family agrees that the town has been very good to them, but there are always a few "haters," although there has never been any racial discrimination at the school or in the town office when certificates were needed or when doing any business in town.

A wedding

For that matter, Nan's Mobile hasn't appeared to skip a beat and continues to be busy from the 6 a.m. opening until closing at 10 p.m. seven days a week. In fact, it has only been closed once and that was Sept. 18, when Geetanjali and her fiancee Kunal (koo-nall) got married.

The pair had been engaged for about a year— although Kunal was in India and Geetanjali was here. Last year they had a formal engagement celebration in India and the process was started for Kunal to come to the U.S. It took the better part of the past year.

The marriage was arranged in the traditional sense in that their families knew each other and felt the pair would be a good marital match and introduced them to the idea in 2009 after Geetanjali graduated from college. They "met" and spoke to each other over facebook and Skype for several months.

On Oct. 28, 2009, the pair were formally introduced when Geetanjali went to India. A few days later, they decided they would get married.

"She said she could not live in India," said Kunal about his future wife and decision to leave his homeland. "Also, every person's dream country is America—here you can work and afford the basics, in India having a car is a luxury. Every parent wants the best opportunity for their children."

The young couple lives in an apartment across the road from the business. Geetanjali loves it in Fairfax and is decidedly happy to be working in the store. The significance of her husband leaving his country and family to come here is not lost on her.

Even though, Nan's Mobile has been robbed a couple of times (once at gunpoint) since the Saini's have owned it, Parkash doesn't allow this to dissuade his sunny disposition, because he feels much less pressure living here in Fairfax, than he did in New York City — even with a questionable element hanging around outside after hours.

He recounts what it was like living in Queens and taking the subway to work in Manhattan in the early morning. "If someone was in front of you, you didn't want to cross his path. If someone was behind you, you didn't want to pass him either," said Parkash. "It was always stressful." He and his wife were both robbed more than once while living in New York. "It was always like living on 'high alert' there," he said. "That's why, in 10 years here mentally, I have never in my mind thought there was somebody bad outside."

The isolated robberies were not from those that sometimes hang around outside the store. Geetanjali adds, "Here, if you don't bother them, they leave you alone."

Although, Hindu the family celebrates Christmas and Parkash joyfully wishes people a "Merry Christmas." He said, if he knows that someone is Jewish, he will acknowledge Hanukkah and doesn't understand the point in saying "Happy Holidays."

There are three significant holiday festivals celebrated in India; Diwali—the festival of lights is in late October or early November. Lohri, which is coming up Jan. 13, is a celebration of new life and friendship and in March is Holi, the Festival of Colors.

For the Sainis, however, it seems the everyday joy of their new lives is celebration enough.

"Believe me, I'm so happy I'm here," said Parkash.
« : December 28, 2010, 03:25:30 PM Henry »

Henry Raymond
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« #1 : December 25, 2010, 08:07:27 AM »

Lisa just sent me the photo she took of The Saini Family  -  A great photo and a great job on the story Lisa.

Henry Raymond
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« #2 : December 25, 2010, 09:16:42 AM »

This family is a blessing for our town.  Friendly, hard-working, not a negative comment from any of them about anything (at least in my experience).  Parkash is the epitome of a responsible, community-minded businessman, and those kids are about as polite and well-mannered as any I have met.

Nice to see this article.  To all of the Sainis, thanks for being part of our community.
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« #3 : December 26, 2010, 08:35:52 AM »

I get to Vermont once a year, usually, and Parkash always seems to remember me, and remember I'm visiting my old home town, even though he never knew me when I lived there.  He always asks me if I'm having a good vacation. 

Lisa, great job with the story!  I loved it, and I appreciate the Saini family's hospitality and smiling faces.  Thanks for sharing, Henry!

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