By JESSICA CIZDZIEL
Flora Anand, the owner of two clothing stores in the Mission District, grins recalling the first time she left home at the age of 18.
Gold bracelets jingled from her bony wrists as Anand crept past her parents’ room in their New Delhi apartment. Only a few hours earlier her father had whispered, “shubha raatri,” goodnight. The young woman’s Christian father had forbidden her from marrying the young Hindu who waited for her outside in the dark.
Less than three percent of India was Christian, and her father was determined to prevent it from dropping further. But his love-struck young daughter decided otherwise. She crept outside her family’s small home, and recognized, Narinder’s triangular nose protruding from the shadows, she recalled.
A few days later, she said, a small Christian girl and a hairy-eared Hindu man were married. To this day, Anand’s father refuses to speak to her. “But he’ll speak to my husband,” she chuckled.
Anand left home for the first time in 1969 unaware that she would be leaving home again and again for the next four decades. The first stop was Canada where she discovered the 30 minutes a day she had spent studying English was completely inadequate.
“The difference between Canada and New Delhi: night and day,” she said, eyes wide recalling her excitement about the first move. Before she knew it she was back in India again, but her husband soon became restless. “I want to be my own boss,” he told his wife. So the family packed up and left for the United States in the late 1970s.
In San Jose, her husband was indeed his own boss and even maintained three employees: his wife and their two sons. The family, she recalled, would operate their business out of the Capitol Flea Market, arriving at 6:30 a.m. and staying late. “I began with just one rack of clothes. But soon that one rack turned to two, then three, then four,” she said.
The Anands called a single bedroom in her brother-in-law’s house home for more than a year before she and her husband were able to afford their own apartment.
In Mountain View, Anand watched her boys play hide-and-seek amidst the racks of wholesale tee-shirts and dresses of a
small clothing shop. The couple would buy and sell 11 more clothing stores before settling on two in San Francisco’s Mission District—S&N Fashion at 2602 Mission St. and Factory Bargain at 2765 Mission between 22nd and 24th Streets.
Now Anand calls S&N Fashion where colorful garments line every foot of the wall, home. “We live in Fremont, but I’m here more than I’m there,” she said surrounded by racks of jeans, blouses, nylon jackets, summer dresses, and cotton shorts that overflow onto the sidewalk.
African American, Latino, Caucasian, and Asian customers browse the aisles as her Mexican employees provide assistance. “¿Hay una problema, Lupe?” Anand asks a young pony-tailed employee. While working in the Mission, Anand has added Spanish to the Hindi, Urdu, and English she already knew.
Near the 24th Street BART, Anand is one of the few South Asians in her traditional blue sari dress. Gold bracelets still jingle from her wrist. She smiles looking out at a rainbow of customers from all different backgrounds. “I go back to New Delhi every two years to visit. But this is my home now.”