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.

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