Dave, the goldsmith at Jewels in Style in Sunnyvale, looks serious when I watch him through the glass doors of the store. He buzzes me in and peers at me with all four eyes of the magnifying lenses over his forehead, his real eyes beady and stoned from staring at glitter all day.
“Please sit, Mahesh will be here shortly,” he says in a brusque manner, and goes back to the lady at the counter, his mind on the job of carving a perfect ring for his customer whose daughter wants to have a stunning ring designed and ordered by her mother.
At the interview about Indian-Americans directed exclusively at Mahesh Nihalani on the premises of Jewels in Style, Dave, his business partner, get ticklish and ends up fielding random questions (pretending all the while to work, of course) intended for his friend.
Dave turns out to be a hybrid of creatures in the Panchatantra. One minute he’s a wily fox stealing lines from an interviewee’s mouth. A half hour later, he’s roaring like a lion over nomenclature.
“Go out there,” he says. “When they talk about Asians they don’t include Indians. Why can’t they call you guys Indian-Americans? That’s only fair, don’t you think?” Nihalani gently reminds him that, yes, we’re now called Indian-Americans, no problem.
A while later Dave is monkeying around again with another semi-precious line or two. Nihalani tells him, tongue-in-cheek, to not mess up or the ring he’s working on will end up several sizes too big.
Are Indians model immigrants? Dave, once again, wants to get a word in edgewise. “Uh…,” he begins what’s potentially a layered, weighty sentence loaded with punctuation, bullet points and bullets. But Nihalani gives him the look and turns around to answer me with a firm “Yes”.
Soon we’re talking about the cultural impact of Indian-Americans and the Hindu temples that have come up in the area. Dave is bristly about calling a temple a temple when it really isn’t one. For instance, the Balaji temple on Cypress Ave in Sunnyvale isn’t a temple.
“It’s just a house, you know,” he shrugs.
But Nihalani argues for the temple priest. “Oh, no, it’s a temple. It has all the deities. Vishnu, Shiva, Parvati…”
“No. It’s just a house.” Dave maintains.
“There’s a feeling of peace in there.” Nihalani says.
“It has a LOT of shoes outside. But it’s just a house. A house. A house.” Dave has stopped working and may pounce on us unless Nihalani and I agree that temples born inside a family room are, merely, single family residences.
“He can say what he wants. But, really, he goes to the temple, I mean, the house, for the food.” Nihalani mentions the magic word and that sticks on Dave who smiles just at the thought of it.
“This guy’s an Indian at heart,” says Nihalani. “He loves Indian food.”
Dave’s nod is grandiose and I can hear a “You betcha!”
“Arrey tho, Dave eats karela, bhindi, lotus root, you name it. I bring food from home everyday. And he wants everything. All the Indian vegetables. And the dhal. And the pickle. Everything!”
To be entertained while picking out a rock for your friend or lover, stop at Jewels in Style at 505, South Pastoria Ave, in Sunnyvale. Dave (who explicitly asked to be written about when I wished to speak to his dynamic business partner) takes your money and is a treasure trove of fun.
“I want to be written about. Now which paper’s this thing going to come out in?”