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.
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