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City Masala magazine unites South Asians in bay area

VALRICO

Five years ago, Chhaya Sanghavi moved to Tampa.

The single mother didn't know a soul.

"Or even how to find an Indian grocery," she said. "It was hard moving to a place where there wasn't more established."

Putting her background in sales and public relations to use, she decided to change that. And so, City Masala the magazine was born.

A mixture of spices used in Indian cuisine, masala is exactly what Sanghavi wanted to bring into the lives of others.

She envisioned the magazine as a revival of a free advertorial she produced as a teenager at home in India. She had always wanted to start another. It would take years, though, and two moves, to pick up where she left off.

In 1989, Sanghavi moved to Philadelphia, where she attended Temple University. When she arrived in Florida in 2004, the single mother, who also works in sales for a document services company, finally felt the time was right.

At first, she worked with a partner. But now, 48 issues and a few changes later, Sanghavi is the sole editor and publisher. And she has grown her circulation by thousands.

"We went from 2,500 issues in the beginning to about 15,000 now," the 42-year-old said. "It's kind of surreal. I put it together on a computer in my bedroom, after work. I don't think most people know that."

Most Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other South Asian residents know exactly where to pick up a copy in restaurants and shops throughout the state. Just about everyone loves to get the latest Bollywood gossip, cricket updates and political dish from a part of the world they used to call home.

"Whenever a new issue comes out, we always have people coming in to ask for it," said Geo George, a cashier at Tampa Grocery, an Indian food store in Brandon. "A lot of people read it."

The monthly magazine's ballooning circulation reflects the growing numbers of South Asians throughout the state, Sanghavi said. From 2004, when the Census Bureau began tracking such numbers, to 2007, the Indian population in the Tampa Bay metro area grew by nearly 2 percent. The 22,850 Indian residents make up the majority of people of Asian descent in the area.

Local Indian and Pakistani associations say their membership reflects the demographic trends.

The Federation of Indian Associations of Tampa Bay was created in 2002 to oversee the 36 Indian groups that now exist in the area, said Ram Jakhotia, a member of the group.

When he moved to Tampa 28 years ago, there was barely one Indian social group, he said.

"We used to go to Indian functions and know just about everyone there," he said. "Now, the crowd is huge, and you barely know anyone."

The story is the same for the Pakistani American Association of Tampa Bay, or PAA. In the past 10 years, more than 100 families have joined the organization, bringing the total to about 350, said Usman Ezad, the PAA's president-elect.

City Masala is popular with many people Ezad knows within the organization, he said. Many readers covet the spot reserved for local features on movers and shakers within the community.

"It's a magazine from our community by our community," he said. "It has become a symbol of connecting people."

Articles feature topics such as immigration, which always resonate with newcomers, he said. One way the magazine works to inform residents is through ads for Indian or Pakistani lawyers who specialize in this area.

"By coming here (to the United States) and settling down, there are many of us trying to bring parents or to sponsor a brother or sister," Ezad said. "It's easy to pick up that magazine and find out."

For Sanghavi, it's a labor of love to produce City Masala. She appreciates knowing that she can entertain and inform her readers even if she has to stay up late, creating ads and editing articles from her bed.

"It's funny," she said. "Now I can't go anywhere without people knowing who I am."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 813-661-2454.

City Masala magazine unites South Asians in bay area 08/13/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 13, 2009 2:25pm]
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