Stamford program teaches Indian heritage to children

October 23, 2016

STAMFORD — Manish Maheshwari didn’t want his family’s native language to be foreign to his children when they visited relatives in India.

It’s a challenge many Indian-American parents face and teaching their children the Hindi language at home doesn’t always work.

The growing Indian population in Stamford now has a resource.

Four years ago, Maheshwari heard of a volunteer-run organization in New Jersey that promotes the Hindi language and culture to children of Indian heritage, and he became one of the key founders of a Hindi USA chapter in Stamford.

“I feel so happy because my parents do not speak English,” he said. “When (my kids) go back to India, at least they can communicate with their grandparents and people who are there.”

The 4-year-old program held a Diwali celebration, also known as Festival of Lights, Friday at Stamford High School. The event, which coincides with the Hindu new year, featured dance, music, skits, traditional Indian food and several activities.

Diwali, which this year falls on Oct. 30, also celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

The increasingly popular program, dubbed Stamford Hindi School, runs on Friday evenings at Stamford High.

Babita Gupta, one of the volunteers, said the once-small program is now full with 125 students, ages 5 through 15.

The program is open to everyone, but all of its current Stamford students are children of Indian families.

“They want their children to connect with their grandparents,” said Gupta, whose eighth-grade son is one of the students in the program.

Even though English is considered “a subsidiary official language” in India, it’s generally used in business and higher education institutions.

Gupta said the program is popular because it also encourages students to engage in music, theater and other cultural activities.

“Indian culture is very rich and vibrant,” she said. “We want them to learn about it.”

The growth is also a reflection of the Indian community in Stamford and Connecticut, which Gupta said is “growing fast” and is “very active.”

Between 2000 and 2010, the Asian Pacific American population in Connecticut increased by 65 percent, according to the state’s Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, a former independent agency that was consolidated this year into the new legislative Commission on Equity and Opportunity.

Pankaj Jha, another founding member of the Hindi school, said he rarely saw Indian families when he moved to Stamford in 2003. But now because of numerous jobs in fields that attract Indian professionals — such as IT, financial services and financial companies — he estimates there are about 1,000 Indian families in the city.

A group of parents in Wilton also run a chapter of Hindi USA at their town’s high school.

Maheshwari said the nonprofit has had a “tremendous” impact on his children, an 11-year-old boy and a 4-year-old daughter.

“It’s not a foreign language to them anymore,” he said.

The organization runs eight levels of classes from 7 to 8 p.m. Fridays from September to June. The annual cost is $250 and includes textbooks.

noliveira@hearstmediact.com, 203-964, 2265, @olivnelson