Vasant Jinwala: From First Indian Grocery Store in Boston to Serving Shishu Bharati for 40 Years

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Vasant Jinwala

LEXINGTON, MA—Meet Vasant Jinwala, the co-owner of the first Indian grocery store in Boston: India Tea & Spices. Moreover, he has been an early supporter of Shishu Bharati, serving the non-profit organization for about 40 years as director, secretary and now it’s current treasurer.

On Oct. 26, Mr. Jinwala will be honored with the New England Choice Award 2018 for the Community Service at the annual awards gala at Westin Hotel in Waltham, MA which will be attended by about 400 community leaders, businessmen, professionals, academics and philanthropists.

New England Choice Awards gala is organized by INE MultiMedia in collaboration with INDIA New England News, and is supported by a number businesses: Platinum Sponsor: Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; Gold Sponsor: Masala Art; Silver Sponsor: BMW of Sudbury and Lahey Health. Supporting sponsors are: Alankar Event Planners & Decorators, Boston Sound and Light Co. and Art of Memories. Community sponsors are: Ameriprise/Mahadev Group; Shah, Dixit & Associates PC, among others.

“Vasant Jinwala truly deserves this recognition for his dedication, compassion, hard work and for playing a very important role in building what Shishu Bharati is today,” said Seshi Sompuram president of Shishu Bharati. “Whole Shishu Bharati community is so grateful, thankful, and ecstatic for recognizing our Vasant bhai with Community Service Award.  This tribute honors not only Vasant bhai, but also all those thousands of past and present dedicated and passionate volunteers.  We are just so proud of our “Cha Cha Nehru” of Shishu Bharati.”

The school’s objective has been to develop a sense of well-informed cultural pride in students by introducing them to Indian arts, customs, languages, religion, history, geography, and current events. We are very proud to note that with the help of limited resources, the community’s aspirations have so far been exceeded. The school currently has about 900 students, 120-plus teachers, and about 200 volunteers. On June 17th this year, Shishu Bharati celebrated the 30th graduating class.

A group of great visionaries started Shishu Bharati as early as 1973.They gathered   a small study group of childrens and gathered every Sunday in the home of one of the parents.

Sanat Patwari, Ila Patwari, Bhupen Kurani, Ms Sandy Nayak, Arun Shah, Ms Smita Patel, Anand Lele, Mahendra B Desai, Ms Vasanti Patel, Hemant Patel, Dr .Teju Shah, Dr. Narendra  Shah are some of the early parents 

During early 1970s, they saw a need for teaching Indian language to children and started classes in their homes. Then the school was moved to a Church in Arlington, MA due to new members like Mahendra Desai from Kimble Street in Arlington, making a push for more children to join the school. At that time Ms. Neeta Mehta and Mrs. Smita Patel joined the teaching staff. Then Mrs. Smita Patel took charge of the school and Shishu Bharati was moved to Burlington (first to campus of Northeastern University and then to Memorial School in Burlington, MA.

Niru and Vasant Jinwala

Mr. Jinwala joined Shishu Bharati when school was moved to Burlington and expanded it over the years to its present state. Since joining the organization about 40-years ago, Mr. Jinwala has been diligently working in various capacities such as director, president, secretary, treasurer and Gujarati teacher. He has been a mentor for hundreds of volunteers, teachers and students.

Shishu Bharati today is located in Lexington and Walpole in Massachusetts and Nashua in New Hampshire. It offers a broad spectrum of educational programs in the languages and culture of India for students of all ages.

Shishu Bharati President Sompuram said that Mr. Jinwala is a man with gentle smile and a great vision and with an unwavering passion to “persevere, preserve, and promote” Indian heritage by educating hundreds of children with Indian languages and culture.

At Shishu Bharati, Mr. Jinwala can be found everywhere and doing everything, and involving and inspiring many volunteers to join to serve Shishu Bharati.

Vasant Jinwala with Shishu Bharati volunteers)

Mr. Jinwala was born in Surat, India. He is one of seven siblings. His family was in the cotton ginning and textile fabric manufacturing business, which is where his name Jinwala originates. Because of the family business, his parents insisted that he continue his education in the textile industry and he obtained his degree in engineering, with high honors at the Maharaja Sayajirao (MS) University of Baroda. Later, he went to University of Leeds in England to further enhance his textile skillsets. At Leeds, he specialized in knitting machines and knitted fabrics and wrote his thesis on the “Dimensional Stability of Fabrics”.

After Mr. Jinwala graduated in 1962, he asked himself: Should I go back to India with my family business or continue my path somewhere new? His mentor Natubhai suggested him America for greater growth opportunities and learning channels. So, he applied for master programs in Raleigh, North Carolina and Lowell, Massachusetts both specializing in the fields of textiles.

Three generations of Jinwalas at Shishu Bharati.

“While I waited, one day, out of the blue, I received a call from the Dean of University of Lowell. The Dean said “I have someone here who wants to talk to you.” It was my chemistry professor, Dr. Pathey from MS Baroda University who was visiting Lowell University. He strongly advised me to make my decision to go to UMass Lowell, and I just did that,” recalls Mr. Jinwala.

In 1964, Mr. Jinwala graduated with honors with a Masters in Textile Technology, and second published thesis “Dimensional Stability of Woven Fabrics”.  Later, he joined Consumer Testing Laboratory in Canton, MA, worked for the company for 36 years until that company relocated to Florida.

He received his Green Card in 1967 when President Kennedy and Johnson loosened the immigration laws to allow for more Indians to enter the United States. In 1967, Mr. Jinwala got married to Niru Patel in an arranged marriage that was set before he left for University of Leeds.

“When we first moved to Lexington and Belmont, we found that we faced challenges finding Indian food and spices. We would drive to New York to buy Indian supplies since we could not get them in Boston. When one person from Boston went, there was always a long list of supplies from everyone in the community. It was an amazing system that worked,” recalls Mr. Jinwala. “Niru came up with the idea that we should open a store in Boston since there was such great demand. Since I had lived in England, and had contacts with Indian suppliers, I talked to them about distributing directly to us. We opened India Tea & Spices in 1973 in Belmont to be close to our children’s schools and making it convenient to run it.”

In 2010, Jinwalas decided to merge India Tea & Spices with House of Spices in New York.

“I stayed on to oversee the Worcester office and help them develop a wholesale/ restaurant division. After 3 years, I left House of Spices and most recently have been consulting with various food distributors in New York and New Jersey area,” says Mr. Jinwala.

During that period, it was very difficult to bring blockbuster talent to Boston. It required much convincing and sponsorship to come to the smaller markets like Boston, but Mr. Jinwala made it happen. He organized Lata Mangeshkar/Mukesh show in 1976 and Asha Bhosle/Rahul Dev Burman show in 1977 in Boston.

New England Choice Awards gala is organized by INE MultiMedia in collaboration with INDIA New England News and is supported by a number businesses: Platinum Sponsor: Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; Gold Sponsor: Masala Art; Silver Sponsor: BMW of Sudbury and Lahey Health. Supporting sponsors are: Alankar Event Planners & Decorators, Boston Sound and Light Co. and Art of Memories. Community sponsors are: Ameriprise/Mahadev Group; Shah, Dixit & Associates PC.

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