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West meets East on Indian radio show

Chicken prices in Trinidad are soaring.

The parents of an Indian movie star are being extorted.

So goes the news at WE Indians radio.

"As long as your origin is Indian, we got something for you," founder Ronica Jaipershad says into a microphone. She reaches toward a stack of compact discs.

Sweet Chutney's Caribbean rhythms.

Singer Lata Mangeshkar's hit songs from India.

Bhangra dance tracks from the United Kingdom.

She plays them all in a tiny radio room with wood-paneled walls in downtown Oldsmar.

In the Indian community, where historical differences play out in America, Jaipershad is trying to bridge the gap between East and West Indians.

She has a radio program Friday evenings on WXYB-AM 1520 and a glossy magazine. Both are called WE Indians.

The "W" for West Indian and the "E" for East Indians.

If only it were that easy. The divisions between West and East Indians are historic, dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the British Empire ruled India and much of the Caribbean.

Many Indians from mainland India were shipped to the Caribbean _ to Trinidad and Guyana _ as indentured laborers. They worked on sugar planations, in rice fields and mines. They kept Indian customs, as much as they could. But distance created differences.

In America, the two immigrant groups met again.

Both groups brought along their historical baggage. Flare-ups occurred, such as the rift last year at Vishnu Mandir, a Hindu temple on Palm Avenue in Ybor City.

A mainland Indian made a comment: "Non-Indians cannot manage this temple."

West Indians took offense. The West Indian Hindu priest ended up holding service on the street. He has a new temple in a house on Lynn Road in Carrollwood.

Jaipershad _ a West Indian trying to bridge the gap _ said she felt caught in the middle.

"It got to the stage where you couldn't solve it," she said.

Jaipershad, 50, was born in Guyana, a country the size of Idaho, rich in rivers and rain forests, poor in economy.

With her father a sugar plantation manager, Jaipershad grew up upper middle class, with indoor running water and a crank-up telephone. But still no TV, washer or dryer.

She was the tenth of 12 children, a tomboy and adventure seeker.

At age 20, in 1973, she went to Toronto to study computers. She borrowed a suit for her job interview with IBM, where she stayed for more than 20 years.

In 1995, she left Canada for Tampa to start her own business.

She became involved in the community immediately, meeting East and West Indians at business gatherings and religious functions.

Here, and in Canada, she noticed divisions.

Trinidad Indians kept to themselves. Gujarati immigrants from Northern India huddled together. South Indians made up another group. Punjabi Indians formed yet another.

They all spoke their own dialects, their own languages.

Jaipershad grew frustrated.

"I knew none of those languages," she said. "I speak English."

While sustaining culture is important to her, she wanted unity.

So in June 2001 she launched WE Indians magazine, self-published in Town 'N Country, with a circulation of 25,000.

The radio program began June 6. It broadcasts on Fridays 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. from WXYB-AM 1520 in Oldsmar.

It couldn't be a more cosmopolitan place. The station is Greek-owned. Polish, Italian and Spanish programs also operate out of the station, along with three other Indian programs.

Jaipershad hosts WE Indians with Varsha Beecum, 23, whose parents immigrated from South Africa. Beecum was born in Memphis, Tenn., and lives in Seminole.

Guest DJ Amit Lamba is Punjabi and studies computers at USF. He lives in Plant City.

Like a lot of community radio, clumsy moments occur, like when dead silence fills the air.

But there's also fun.

"We hope we wind down your week and wind up your weekend," roars Beecum into the microphone.

Feedback has been good on the WE Indians concept. But not always.

Trinidad Indians complain coverage is slim. Mainland Indians say the venture looks too Caribbean.

"How do you win this battle?" says Jaipershad.

She pops in another CD. Music fills the air and the phone lines light up with requests.

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