Thursday, May 08, 2008

Being relegated to bed-head status in a suburban Chicago home has more to feed to one’s thoughts than one would imagine. Especially when one has been a head-hasher for as long as one can recollect, and a believer, like Claude Levi-Strauss, that food must be “not only good to eat, but also good to think.”

These past few days and nights have been rather harrowing; not that I expected any less of them, having been diagnosed with a herniated disc in my neck - at C4-C5-C6, to be precise. After being told that rest is the only way to redress, if not reverse the condition, all I could agonize over was not being able to live my Leah-Eskin-wannabe dream, whilst whipping up elegant suppers for the family in my little kitchen, with my Macbook screen blinking coyly at me from the counter-top corner, goading me to add more flavor to the meal with my scrumptious words. The thought of having spent over four hours to frost and decorate a colossal, three-tiered sponge-and-chocolate marble cake for my little girl’s birthday recently - the prime suspect, according to my neurologist, among other activities, to have bestowed me with this handicap - makes me want to weep, wail, or simply whack her bleeping EMG contraptions.

While I nurse my sore nerves and thoughts with tender Spring air gushing in through my second-floor window (which, pitiably, isn’t as much as a vista, with its mesh screen warily warding ladybugs away, as if observing some at close quarters would hurt my little one’s learning), I also inhale the smell of wet earth, searching the sky for an ever-elusive Sun. Somewhere in the distance it is raining; gusty winds are shaking the spirits off stray drifters, and in my mind’s eye, familiar images are deliquescing into a soaked haziness - silhouettes of fellow-Chicagoans braving a sudden downpour with their chic Drizzle coats, huddling around at the corner bistro, discussing everything but the weather, sipping their organic Ineekas, or digging into a deep dish pizza like all that cheese could very well be stashed away in the sinuous contours of that rain-gear.

Sighing between sips of my Columbia roast brewed in a South Indian, stainless-steel coffee kettle, I go back, one sepia-toned frame at a time, to the day I first set foot in the city. It was early December, the entire city was blanketed by several layers of snow, and I was completely in awe of the unfazed, unflinching air about Chicagoans. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they had to do, the salt truckers were ready to roll at the sight of the first flurry, and everything else went on like clockwork - buses bearing school children cautiously cutting through the slickness, mulish strains of the Blues wafting through the otherwise impenetrable air, and the light curls of steam from possible Grande coffees escaping the random, half-open windows of cars stuck in screech-halted pile-ups. My mind, as I reckon, seeks solace in the unrest caused by recent happenings in the city - an extended, wretched winter, a stray earthquake, outrageous enough to stir the city’s skyline, and a series of unwarranted thunderstorms crashing in on us just when Spring is setting in. And yet everyone I know is determined not to let a merciless spell of dreadful weather taint their life. A buddy recently commented that he has walked atleast four blocks from Union Station to his makeshift office this winter, even on the most dismal of days, listening, amid the deafening chug of the El, to the reverberating rhythm of the Bhairavi from an MS Subbulakshmi composition on his i-pod.

Words like that, from random conversations I’ve had with other Chicagoans in the recent past - like the stranger that my daughter befriended on a gloomy April day, who assured her that the Sun will come out soon, and she could then go to the creamery with mommy for a sundae, the fellow-desi-shopper at Patel’s, who huffed and puffed over escalating grocery prices, insisting that despite lenient import rules, mangoes ought only to be brought in during the Indian monsoon - piece themselves together, filling me with a strange sense of pride and belonging, fortifying my weak nerves, and making me realize that no matter where I am, I will always cherish my stay in this city of high winds and low temps. Much like the sense of succor initiated by the fact that “Interpreter of Maladies” is just as popular among Chicago’s readership circles as “The Long Goodbye” is, thanks to the “One Book, One Chicago” program.

Even as I begin to wonder how to possibly endure more bed-rest, and conceal delinquency - each time I sneak time away to exert my arm and re-knot those pinched nerves - I hastily construe that my experience of living through all these years of nasty weather, damned Wrigleyville fiascos, and incessant road repairs, among other things, will bring forth the calm and forbearing that is often required to live the lackadaisical, slap-dash Windy City life.

Now as I try to scour my mind for the right words to finish this piece, I cannot resist checking Tom Skilling’s forecast for the forthcoming weeks, the Grant Park schedule for the upcoming Blues and Jazz festivals, and the weekly ad at my local arts and crafts store, so I can avail a discount on another set of cookie cutters to bake some curvy-edged ginger-thins and usher Summer in, alongside pitchers of lemonade and iced teas.

But for now, all I can do is pop the day’s NSAID dosage and wait for it to work its magic and heal my herniated disc at C4-C5-C6. Perhaps all this resting intends to help me find equilibrium between my epicurean and writerly instincts. I could butter my bread, dress my salad, or simmer down a bisque` with my left hand - but doing all of that, while dictating into my Dragon, which I hope to soon acquire, is where the actual challenge lies. And if the weather forecast is anything to go by, the celebrated Chi-town charisma is sure to reinforce my vapid senses and help me overtake Leah Eskin, even if by a dreamy, wild impulse…

After months of arctic blasts, of days spent indoors,
baking, broiling, and paging through Wilton yearbooks;
of enduring white-knuckled steering, and OBOC thrillers,
Spring’s finally in, all’s well in Chi-town, ‘cept the tangled nerves of (gourmet) kooks.

Friday, December 21, 2007

If you’ve ever been in Chicago, and seen Gehry’s “The Bean,” at Millennium Park, you’d barely raise a brow at the new bejeweled building that adorns Michigan Ave. Well, not so much ‘bejeweled’ as a chic, stark piece of contrast to the droning scream of archaic buildings that line the famous Mag Mile. The ten-story high, dazzling “folding wall of glass” fascia of the Spertus Institute (of Jewish studies) is a treat to the eyes, and will open to the public by the end of the month. As a resident, I’ve often wondered what these unique pieces of architecture, contemporary, or otherwise (after all, Chicago is home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Houses that resonate an old world charm that is hard to fathom in the high-rise jungle these days) and other sightseers’ gems offer to tourists that I don’t appreciate as much.

This thought has been dwelling on my mind a lot more than I’d have allowed for - given my impending homeward-bound plans and the general sense of wistfulness floating in the air these days - I am taken often back in time and space to my city of lush gardens and sprawling green islands. Perhaps the neophytes will shirk at that - and they’re hardly to blame. I grew up in a Bangalore that was full of trees - gulmohars and champak trees reached for the sky with their untouched branches; and orioles, cuckoos, mynahs flitted about in their canopies. The air was fresh, with an enduring nip all year round, and neighborhoods had wholesome, meaningful names, their origins embedded in the ribbed folds of the city’s glorious history, like “Chamarajapet.” On a recent visit, I not only saw the city through the eyes of a foreigner, but also noticed that the littlest of changes annoyed me beyond reason. It is not easy, even if one is mildly Bohemian, to bow to a progression that comprises, among other things unnatural, a concrete wilderness and smog-infused defilement. I could never, for instance, set foot in a Boulevard in Bangalore, as opposed to a “5th Main,” without cringing and wishing cosmopolitanism didn’t stretch its pincers out to a Western simulation approach that was not only newfangled, it was cursory.

But I digress. Even as an inhabitant there, one seldom got to do the touristy jaunt that opens up new vistas through which everything, including the lawn-clock at Lalbagh, seems fresher and distinctive. However, as a kurta-clad scribe a few years ago, replete with my faded pair of jeans, Kolhapuris and Khadi satchel (sorry, no smoke-belching car to proclaim one’s meager identity in those days), I decided one day to take a Department-of-Tourism round of the city and mingle with the bashful, Kannada-speaking guide, and throngs of visitors, and bring a new angle to the humdrum sightseers’ daybook on which volumes had been written. I surprised myself with the knowledge I acquired of the city’s past, including the significance of a modest palace that belonged to Tipu Sultan that I never knew existed. I was amazed at how the experience had virtually held a crystal pince-nez to my eyes, and made me tolerate potholes if they led to a hidden treasure of the city that I’d suddenly discovered.

Even as I veer at the tiller of my nomadic thoughts, and take in the nip in the Windy City air, I wonder why I cannot bear the same clout over this city and its merits. I am usually tipping friends who visit off on some off-the-beaten-path must-dos that I have come to encounter over the years of my stay here. Of course, I have been to China Town, and know - where to get economical parking in the hub of the city, when to anticipate discounted tickets to a Blues concert, to rely on the Metra during the Taste of Chicago event and 4th of July, where to get the best pizza or pancakes or Chicken Biryani, where to take a detour; and have long realized the varying ways of the wretched weather and to carry a jacket even in the peak of summer. But, I wonder, does all this really constitute the makings of a true-blue Chicagoan? Will I ever come to truly call this home, even if it is home away from home?

I have lived, dreamed and breathed quaint old Bangalore all my life. I’d like to experience a surge of emotion when it comes to Chicago, and a rush of belonging, which will drift past the mania that grips me during MLB season. I’d like to never set foot in a shopping arcade escalator, and haggle instead with the wholesale vendors in Bangalore’s Chickpet for a yard of silken floss. I’d like to eat steaming idlis off a plantain-leaf-plate with my hands and sip filter coffee from a steel tumbler and awkwardly plim the juice off sugarcane sticks and watch caterpillars roll over dew-laced leaves and just live the simple life all over again. My thoughts, of course, are wild enough to be stirred, and tossed into nothingness by the bleeping of a microwave that has warmed up my new-age dinner of leftovers.

I haven’t, however, forgotten where I began this letter - and even though, in my true Bohemian spirit - I am likely to go and marvel at the glass labyrinth of the Spertus Institute, take cover under its glazed awning, and allow my thoughts the luxury of drifting again, possibly to the realms of the simple, unembellished life lived elsewhere, where walls were openable. And even as oldfangled guitars thrum the Blues in the background, I will reach out to pick out that perfect-contoured maple or poplar leaf before the earth gets fully snow-laden, to file in my little one’s seasons-scrapbook. I also know (a rather strident sensation in the stillness of chronic nostalgia) that I may possibly never feel right anywhere, or realize entirely the import of my roots amid the disturbing clangor of its recent facade, but a girl can dream.

I walk on well-tread paths, yet my feet fail to hold
their grip on the shifting earth; Chicago, or Bangalore -
the substance of feeling right, if you behold,
isn’t so much in the place, but in the allure
of reminiscing the petticoat grace I naively once possessed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

As I’ve been routinely doing on Sunday mornings for the past few years, I opened up the Tribune magazine rather unceremoniously today, and these words caught my attention - “Destination uncertain, they trudged on.” They formed the headline of a story that ran in the Tribune in the year 1942, which was about two little boys, aged eight and nine, who levered a skylight open in a movie theater crown, fell in a big swoop into a ventilation duct, and caught snatches of two R-rated movies through blank spaces between the fan blades, which thankfully, were static. Apparently, the boys were simply dawdling, and trying to make up for a meager 15 cents they were short of for a matinee, on a languorous summer afternoon.My thoughts have been wafting in myriad directions since. The more I try to comprehend the weight of those words, the more they seem to form an obscure plaid, toppling upon themselves, and billowing into slivers of images from a hazy past, where summers were spent without as much as a design or reckoning. In no particular order, the times I cherish most from elapsed summers, like when my friends and I huddled up under a banyan tree looking for little feathers that may have dropped down from rigid woodpecker tails; or taking off on spontaneous biking races, barefoot, on creaky, antiquated bicycles; or even lounging on a charpoy in granddad’s room, and unwinding with Flatt & Scruggs playing liltingly on his vintage Phillips gramophone. None of these activities beckoned a defined objective, and that thought is almost an unbearable contrast to the way in which, in a confined play area in a park in Chicago, years and waning reminiscences hence, I monitor my little girl’s every move, sway and jiggle; or when I drive around in isolated suburban neighborhoods seeking hints of dulled retentiveness in pieces of blue pottery at yard sales for a story to chronicle, and at every swerve, checking on her as she lulls herself to sleep over a Beatles’, or Clyde Moody melody, or to Jagjit Singh crooning “Hazaron Khwaahishen Aisi…” oblivious of the significance of wistfulness that orbits all these actions and songs.Coming to think of it, there is actually a lot to do in Chicago in the summer. But the structured nature of each activity and pursuit tends to choke the free-spiritedness that one may have acquired over the years, from living a blithe childhood in a continent where day begins as dusk falls in this one. There are park district arenas that call for timed, maneuvered exercising of actions, like the trikeathons that demand Shimano shoes and swimming pools that call for appropriate flaps and floats. No impulsive sprees, or wayside carousing that can let the children soak in the sunshine without the fear of the spin-off of global warming, or of flouting an invented decorousness. Also, it makes one wonder - do the sights of gigantic balloons that fill up by a lever-driven, pedaling or pumping action, or say, windmill replicas, at a museum serve amply as learning stations for these young minds? Is there really a delineated “destination” that we’re impelling them towards?And then there is a vision of an intangible pattern of life as I know it, of chasing dreams, and it flashes in little snippets in my reflective mind. If the words, “summer” and “Chicago” were to be seen tied in one sentence, they would instantly make one conjure up an impression of exuberance and delight. Because it is characteristic of the Midwest sun to be elusive, and before one knows it, it’s sundown in a more acute sense, even as the gentle nip in the air turns to deadening frigidity after a brief, bright spell. The city comes alive with food fests, street fairs, U-pick berry gardens, jazz concerts, and outdoor cafés with their bright green parasols, fountains, and a gazillion other attractions - and people opening their senses to them almost perfunctorily at the very crack of summer solstice, as if a single moment is not to be wasted even in thought. With alarming regularity, these activities are replicated each year, and people don’t sway or sigh as they tune their surroundings out, and follow a well-tread path to an ethereal, even ephemeral, happiness that befalls their detached lives in bursts every summer. And that seems to be the misaligned “destination” they trudge towards, and it shrinks to nothingness when the lemonade springs ice up and the bluebirds flit to yonder worlds, for in the bleary winter months they merely seek out a synthetic warmth.It’s funny how a set of words in a newspaper headline, or a song has the power to bring to your mind a collage of thoughts and memories. Even as I traipse along toward an open-ended “destination,” I sometimes feel like I have arrived. Every time I wake to a morning raga of “Suprabhatam,” in this faraway land, it stirs in me an overwhelming sense of security and nostalgia that will keep me going, and chasing my evasive dreams, and wondering why no one stops to sit down and think or just take the essence of a moment in.

Whether I rehearse the “Chakravaaka,”
or open my eyes to “Good Morning America,”
the dreams must be dreamed, and the miles, tread;
and even with no destination in sight, life, lived.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A day full of unremitting flurries notwithstanding, history was made in Chi-town yesterday. Yes, it’s official, the Bears have made it to the Super Bowl after 21 long years. And it didn’t take bubbly Budlights for some of us to bounce off our seats like the dog in the commercial. Well, you see, you don’t exactly have to be a Bears fan, or even a football freak, to partake in this frenzy that has held everyone spellbound. You just have to live with someone that is. Sometimes, it helps if you live above or below or adjacent to such fanatics, and they don’t exactly have to have a big pixel television, for they’d have been unruly as blaring, bleating Argali sheep on the Altais anyway, thanks to Lovie and the boys yesterday. Personally, I am happy that Soldier Field was set ablaze even in all that snow, courtesy of which I spent my Sunday baking crisp “alu parathas,” and reading blood-curdling excerpts from Lesy’s “Murder City,” among other things. Miami, of course, is another story --- it will be sweltering, and not just because of the hotfooted Colts and Bears, or say, Prince at halftime. And while we’re talking sports, there’s an itsy bit of news that has been eschewed in the wake of all this hoopla. The Olympic team here has readied its 20 official 457-page books to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games host hotspot. And if Conley’s dedication is given half the interest it merits, the Chicago sun will more than shine brightly on the contestants, they say.

With the arctic blasts finally hurtling in on us, what wouldn’t we give for a drop of sun? Of course, if you have a strong back and the will for thrill, you might skate on the rinks at Millennium Park, or go window-shopping (even if it means slinking in and out of fancy stores just to warm those frostbitten fingers) on Michigan Avenue. But if you’ve ever actually strolled on Michigan Avenue in January, you’ll know to do better and stay in, or even cede and browse through Macy’s no matter how much you miss Marshall Fields. But as long as you’re on Michigan, if you plan to be, you wouldn’t have to fret over nibbling on crunchy toffee almond bars to wash down with your Machiato, given that Starbucks (and God knows you’ll thank Him enough there’s one down Michigan) has flushed out all that artery-clogging trans-fat in its bakes. Of course, if you’re the doting mom of a little girl, you might prefer lunching with her, seated beside her favorite doll at the American Girl café. Or if you’d much rather have a good laugh to warm up, the Blue Man Group is at your service. There’s something for everyone in the winter in Chicago, provided they can make it anywhere without as much as a skid or a slew on the slick roads. Special mention goes to handlers of strollers or gigantic diaper totes and the little tykes that their contents belong to.

And then there is Jennifer Hudson, an ex-American-Idol-wannabe who won her first Golden Globe award for best supporting actress in her film debut, “Dreamgirls.” I don’t know much about the film sparing the detail that it also stars Eddie Murphy and has her crooning and mesmerizing audiences. At any rate, Matt Lauer liked it, and I shall be wise (or hopelessly smitten) enough to say he’s right.

And so this winter, even as snowmen were animatedly built and the pediatrician duly paid visits, I managed to find sugarcane sticks without much ado, at the local fresh market. Of course, Sankranthi wasn’t the same as last year, in India, but my little princess seemed radiant in her teeny-weeny lehenga and filled the house with peals of laughter, and tinkling trinkets, while the appetizing aroma of ghee-laced, raisin-speckled “Pongal,” persistently clung to the walls even if it was owing to slammed windows that keep the howling winds at bay.

Winter is here, and unlike the hordes of other desis about, I am determined to stop lamenting and making it memorable, with or without festivities. I am gritty about adding my celebrated Indian spin on everything, be it teaming up my turtle-necks with Kashmiri shawls; jazzing up my Campbell’s (creamy tomato) with roasted cumin; or simply swigging down cups of piping hot “masala chai,” in the place of hot chocolates.

Neil Tesser at Green Mill, or Komodo King at Shedd,
roller skating at the Bean, or lying snuggled up in bed,
Frango mints at Macy’s, or Vikram Chandra at Barbara’s,
there’s something for ev’ry cold heart, in the city of big shoulders.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Even as baseball fanatics cringed and chafed inwardly this season, marking a record low in MLB viewership, sports enthusiasts in Chicago were busy focusing their energies on the performance of the Bears, which has also, alas, disintegrated into a Dolphins-generated doom. I have missed saying “Go Sox,” a lot this year, and every time I passed by Curragh’s, I imagined cold, tame beer being swigged down by hopelessly taken Sox buffs as they ogled emptily at the big screen, gasping and then hushing their own spirits down. And it was then that I would sigh and move on in my stippled thought patch. It is hard to go back to twiddling with one’s baseball enthusiasm.

But that’s not all Fall has brought. Every year, as Fall kicks in, haggard Indian moms like myself get busy cleaning and shopping, as well as toiling in the kitchen, concocting secret recipes for honeyed candy and Marshmellow peeps, possibly, alongside laddus and barfis. Fall always brings with it a new hope, of color, brightness, and merriment. And while the entire citizenry around us gets busy stocking up on gifts and goodies, we get busy choosing Halloween costumes and Diwali candles. For us it’s not just about pumpkin pies and cranberry sauce, but also about ‘halwas’ and ‘samosas.’ Our string lights not only adorn the Christmas trees, but also illuminate the ‘Puja’ corners, tucked away in a closet somewhere, or another nook that the kids can keep from. If Fall means bringing out the wool and fleeces, it also means dusting off the silks and silver. If the Magnificent Mile represents the quintessential holiday embellishment, Devon Avenue helps our suburban Chicago homes light up. In these homes, stars and candles glimmer in harmony; the welcome wreaths lead you to the tinkle of the sacred bells; the stockings and garlands brim just as fresh; and, underneath the spiffiest and scariest of tiny Halloween costumes, a trinket or two clinks, waiting to complement the kurtas or lehengas that may well follow suit.

And this year too, there has been enough uproar to get the city to prep itself up for the holiday season, and in all the bleak, blustery days that have ensued since the chill crept in, Falloween has been eventful as ever. The trees, having blushed flamingly, and having bathed themselves in the most flamboyant of auburns and ochers, have finally given up and liberated their leaves. After a good deal of conscientious underpinning, local pumpkin patches and rickety fog machines have churned out yet another eerie Halloween. Although, in my case, I barely managed to hunt the teensiest “froggie” costume down on the eve of Halloween for my little girl. She was quite amused by the whole affair, and had it not been for those layers of thick fuzz with snappy Velcro fastenings, and a narrow hallway full of equally sweaty, screeching toddlers who were ragingly high on sugar, she’d have garnered a few more bonbons in her little bag. And even though I did whisk up some meringues and spook up the house with hand carved pumpkins and paper lanterns, the ‘paneer rolls’ and ‘rasmalais’ that graced our little Halloween party outdid the entire candy bandy.

Well, even as the nip in the air plummets, and scores of fellow desis pack up to leave for home, I cannot help but think of the sun. It is going to be a brutal few months, yet, as it is always wont to, the holiday season seems ebullient as ever to me, as it rushes in with a crimson speckled cheer. Snow-men, starry lights, purple skies, popcorn pops, stocking-fuls of surprises, and cranberry strings up that tree are waited upon with bated breath, and a ravenous passion. Even in all the excruciating iciness that November inflicts, one nearly lusts after the flurries now, and as those frost bites are balmed, wood burned bitter blue, warmth caressed, luscious grapes firmed, the perfect tangerines grated to garnish the pastries, plush wreaths hung, paper cards sought, new possessions bagged, and lest I forget - the turkey stuffed, here’s wishing all of you a most glorious holiday season.

Past Falloween, flaccid leaves, crackling
underfoot, pause to unite with the snow.
Bare trees too make a silhouette, amidst sparkling
stars and lights…morrow will be better than you know.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Even as we ready for Fall in our own distinct ways, Emma Mitts and Mayor Daley are ready with their whopping Fall token to Chicagoland - something that’s been in the making for three prolonged years - the city’s first Wal Mart store. This newsy nugget has seemingly taken the city by storm - and amid all the hoopla it has stirred up, one particular feature made me beam. The store has a ‘green roof’ - one half of its roof houses a shrubbery, and it also has sensors fitted in, to check whether it would emit less heat than the ‘brown’ ones. Of course, the green is on the brink of tanning out and ceding to Fall for now, but hopefully, it will come abloom next Spring.

And then, some swashbucklers are flexing their muscles to partake in the Chicago Marathon next month. Grant Park, and its winding roads will be set ablaze like never before, and several charities stand to benefit by this mega-event as well. Indolent onlookers are in for a treat too - live music along the course, and sports legends within arm’s reach to garner autographs from. Plus, with the tiniest quirk of luck, a chance to be photographed, and featured as witnesses to a race on the fastest marathon course in the world. While I belong in neither category, I’d much rather donate to a charity from the comfort of my own home, and if I wanted to attend an open-air concert, I’d much rather take the back stands at Millennium Park (it makes wading my way through an ocean of stragglers easier, in case of diaper or tantrum emergencies). Besides, I think I run marathons every single day - I’m sure sprinting from room to messy room a gazillion times a day qualifies. What’s more, Pooh Bear, Pluto, Eeyore, Barbie, all their kin who squeal and jiggle on mere inadvertent contact, and all the learning tables with their protruding sharp corners that have desensitized my feet, count as jumbo hurdles.

Every Fall, Chicagoans carry out the same drill - as if they were chronically destined to, or it were a perfunctory action. They go apple picking, wine tasting, and fall color watching in the Wisconsin/ Michigan/ Upper Peninsula region, and come back refreshed. On occasion, one hears of escapades in the Indiana Amish Country, but nowhere beyond. And I have often wondered what Illinois has to offer, and why no one ever speaks of it. I caught a few alluring ads on the telly, for “Enjoy Illinois,” a state tourism and department of commerce initiative, which offers an array of fascinating Falloween getaways. But given my family’s love for highly impulsive, last-minute jaunts, I decided to acquiesce and make the most of it, rather than cringe at the thought of being unable to plan a holiday in advance, like the saner lot does. (So, I thought to myself, if there’s a mention somewhere of biking on trails, I’m in). And as it turns out, there are not only biking trails, they’re tucked in woodlands. There are sandstone canyons for hikers, canoe-able wetlands, stunning bluffs, and some really spectacular scenic drives. To me, all this sounds rather exotic, and I think the grand old Amazon cruise, and the African Safaris can surely wait. I have a rather magnificent homestead to discover and enjoy first, albeit impetuously.

While Fall and the holiday season generally usher in an aura of merriment and effervescence, the indigenous festive spirit is not to be disregarded - Dusshera and Diwali sure do light up our homes, and bellies. If one has to keep up with this fervor and generally be in the know, one has to visit Devon Avenue. It’s like treading the Magnificent Mile just to bask in the glitz of the festival lights. It’s the same old drill again - we scurry up to Devon, spend the first half hour looking for parking space, and another half hour locating the stores we’ve been to a dozen times over, and shop (and on occasion, haggle, too) for clothes and sweets. I don’t know what it is about sweets during this time - but we invariably stock up on the laddus and pedhas from Sukhadia’s every year, and gorge on them for weeks, as if it were a ritual. And then there are temple cafeterias, and potlucks - so largely, all this festivity revolves around food. Then again, potlucks need no rhyme or reason really, they’re even organized to sit around, eat, and mull over a reason for an ensuing one. So by the end of the year, we’re all richer by a few pounds, and extra cholesterol; which don’t burn till summer arrives and the beaches (and beachwear) beckon.

Mile after magnificent mile to tread,
oaks, cedars and maples blushing red,
orchards, orangeries and vineyards beckon,
from Dandia to Halloween - ‘tis the season
to bring out the silks, wool; (and bake halwas ‘n gingerbread).

Monday, August 28, 2006

Two big heartbreaks, and yet only an infinitesimal set of mourners - Chicago for you this week. I say infinitesimal, because, for one, Cubs’ fans are rather chronically doomed to let everyday, rinky-dink losses affect them, and secondly, Bubba was primarily adored by children. Steve Gatto must be gleaming, no doubt; but my cavil is that when you’re a Sosa or an O’Malley, it’s a known fact that even a sneeze or an arm twist could cost your team dearly, so why blame it on an abject curse? If Billy Sianis hadn’t taken his goat to that fated game in 1945, or say, if he’d cleansed the poor creature before he set foot in Wrigley Field, would the Cubs have been World Champions? As an earnest baseball freak, I’m not diffident in the least to admit that I sometimes shift focus from the crux to such wacky thoughts that traverse my mind; or to forewarn others to scurry and seal their tickets in advance for an upcoming game just to claim freebies.

And then there’s Bubba --- the first grouper in history to have fought cancer, and now he’s gone, leaving everyone at the Shedd Aquarium cold with his exhausted warmth. I have been reading so much about Bubba that I’ve come to stanchly believe in the power of love and perseverance. Life is really precious, but often, we thoughtlessly squander it to only realize much later that we’ve already driven it to atrophy. Like Tim Hansel said, “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. We cannot avoid pain, but we can avoid joy.” Albeit through his sufferance, Bubba inspired several cancer patients, mostly children, and that in itself is one whale of an achievement for a lifetime. I am hopeless when it comes to bewailing and seldom know what the right thing to say is, but if Leslie Beth were to write him an elegy, I hope she’d say, “Sweet Bubba, as you glide and fly, through the oceans of your new-found sky, remember to stop and say good-bye.”

Well, on that note, I’d like to remind you of someone else that’s gearing up to say good-bye. The sun - and it makes me cringe to see him leave. Nearly rescinds my endeavor in this verse:

When summertime dawns
honeyed skies bleed
on thirsting lives

Gardens bask in the briskness
bearing their blossoms out,
as if in gratitude

Seas beckon the crescent
in dimpled laughter,
swelling with pride

No hazy obscurities,
nor gray clouds,
shall quell the Sun’s splendor

Even when darkness descends
and angst abounds
His stars rouse and light the depths.

But the stars don’t keep us warm on bleak, fall nights, worse on Windy City-style hyperborean ones. Which probably explains why people are incessantly bustling to make hay while the sun shines, as it were. Yet, it seems merely as if they were getting their skates on to ready for the wintry months.

Now that I belong to the mothers-of-hyperactive-tiny-tots brigade, I’m aware of what members of the clan usually do in the summer. And I’ve done most of it --- I’ve taken my little one to gardens, pools, zoos, and theme parks --- but the most imperative activity that stands out, is registering for winter classes at the park district. “How can they possibly stay locked indoors, just moping desolately, while it flurries?” is the oft-repeated question. Even though I found that some of the classes are worth signing up for, like ballet or something equally sensational (mostly for older kids) I wouldn’t think of paying a cloying Park District coach a hefty price just to throw in a few toys for a bunch of toddlers, only to stand and witness hair-splitting spats among them with no power to arbitrate and try to restore sanity. Building snowmen can be a fun way to tag as ‘Play Time,’ too, so I’ve resigned myself to this simple thought for now.

The one thing that remains highly uninflected all year round though, is the satiation of retail therapy. When April’s last snow-showers are kissing us farewell, it’s usually the itsy-bitsy polka-dot bikini that beckons (unless you’re a beer-belly sporting bub). And when all that ice cream has settled comfortably in the hungry haunches, and the sun is humming his swansong, people fleck the Magnificent Mile, garnering their wool and gifts, and embellishing it just enough to shame the holiday lights. As for me, I’m simply mulling Halloween costume ideas over a frozen yoghurt. And it’s not just the Oberweis cows that are beaming.

The hazels are at work, muzzling up the greens,
Forth and Towne’s got the Fall look all ready.
Go, stop the summer wind ‘fore it careens,
or hold your breath, till the harvest’s steady.
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