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).
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