DETROIT—Indo-Pakistani tensions continue to escalate this week at the Eight-Mile and Telegraph Road Amoco, where hostilities between owner Rajesh Srinivasan and in-store Subway mini-franchise manager Majid Ashraf threaten to spill over into all-out war.
"We have made every effort to extend the hand of friendship to the Pakistani delegation that runs the Amoco Mart's Subway Express," said the India-born Srinivasan, 49, in a statement to the press Monday. "But that hand, my own hand with which I built this business for my family, has been repeatedly and without remorse slapped away."
Leased and operated by Pakistani immigrant Ashraf and his family since March 1999, the in-store Subway occupies 30 percent of the Amoco Mart's total retail space. Ever since their arrival, the Ashrafs have been the subject of increasingly inflammatory rhetoric from Srinivasan, who charges, among other things, that they are not mopping their fair share of the disputed territory near the coolers.
In a terse Feb. 1 statement to reporters, Ashraf struck back.
"I come to America to make business, not to be insulted by the son of a New Delhi whore," Ashraf said. "I take my orders from [Subway regional manager] Larry [Ferber], not from son-of-bitch Indian dog who says to me where I mop and where I not mop."
Though tensions have existed ever since the Ashrafs took over the Subway, the situation began sharply deteriorating in December of last year. Upon seeing Srinivasan sweep the parking lot at his wife's behest, Ashraf mocked his Indian counterpart, calling him "a quaking little baby goat" and questioning the manhood of "anyone who would take orders from a woman."
"What Majid doesn't recognize is that there are significant differences between his Islamic culture and Rajesh's Hindu culture regarding gender roles," said Dr. James Sasser, a Harvard professor of Middle Eastern studies. "But, to be fair, Rajesh didn't help matters when he came after Majid with that squeegee."
Relations further deteriorated on Jan. 20, when a dispute over cleaning-supplies inventory led to a full-blown shouting match between the small-business owners. For 45 minutes, Srinivasan and Ashraf loudly traded insults in full view of customers, and the episode reached its apex when Srinivasan called Ashraf "a filthy, lying cheat lower than the untouchable caste of my native land."
Srinivasan then spit on the floor in disdain, prompting Ashraf to retaliate by hurling an economy-sized container of Janitor In A Drum at his rival's head.
Though the skirmish resulted in no serious injuries, it did end what little dialogue there had been between the two sides. Neither Ashraf nor Srinivasan is currently speaking to the other, and both are said to be hiding the employee bathroom key in an attempt to force the other out.
Acquired by the Srinivasan family in 1987, Eight-Mile and Telegraph Road Amoco has long been a hotbed of Indo-Pakistani tension, as its strategic location makes it critical to Pakistani cab drivers needing to refuel on their way from Detroit garages to the more lucrative suburban trade routes. Fluctuating gas prices have, over the years, resulted in strained relations between the station's Indian owners and its Pakistani cab-driver customers, but the economic interdependence of the two groups in a highly competitive climate kept such tensions in check.
Given the volatility of the current situation, officials from Amoco and Subway, who license franchise rights to the Srinivasan and Ashraf families, are keeping a close eye on the troubled region.
"Something must be done, or we're looking at a situation that could lead to all-out war," said Frederick Foss, Subway director of franchise relations for southeast Michigan. "It's in the best interests of everyone in the area that positive relations are maintained between the two sides."
Community members are equally eager to see stability restored to the once-peaceful Amoco. Among the concerned local residents are Sandy Kreil, the nurse who gets coffee at the Amoco Mart on her way to work; local panhandlers "Dan-O" and "Malik"; and Frannie Koenig, the elderly woman who drops in every morning for a Diet Dr. Pepper and a pack of Newport Lights.
In spite of the concern, diplomatic initiatives on the part of Subway and Amoco officials have met with failure.
"I do not see why I must refill ice machine every day when Ashraf's customers have taken away 40 percent of my business for soda," said Srinivasan before walking out on a Jan. 11 negotiating session. "You go die, Mr. Ashraf. I am not listening to you anymore."
In the wake of the breakdown in negotiations, many observers are fearful that the Indian family will "drop the bomb" and refuse Ashraf access to the Dumpster behind the station, effectively forcing him to pay for a separate commercial garbage service and increase his costs beyond profitability. This move would leave Ashraf with little choice but to retaliate with a strike against the candy aisle.
"If such a scenario were to unfold, the devastation unleashed upon the Amoco and its surrounding environs would be vast," Sasser said. "Without the Amoco Mart, locals would have to go all the way over to the Exxon on Gratiot [Avenue] for gas and snacks. Something must be done immediately, or it could spell doomsday for everyone."