Twenty Five Year’s Of Living In Chicago
17th February 2005
Have you ever lived somewhere for a quarter of a century? I am almost getting close to this with Chicago. It is hard to imagine how many things have happened and how many instances are required in ones life to build that many years in a place. I really like this town. It is a city that is cold and hot and warm and damp and full of experiences I am fresh with.
Recounting the experiences of Chicago is always wonderful. As I continue to write weekly, it is also a great pleasure to recount some of the experiences of the town and what my recollection of the past and present.
Swami Narayan Mandir, Bartlett, Illinois
On February 14, 2005 I went to visit the Swami Narayan Mandir. In the beginning of August of 2004, I covered the inauguration of the Mandir in Bartlett, Illinois. Visiting this temple is always a wonderful experience. It also happened to be Valentines Day morning. First thing that struck me is the spiritual calmness of this place. Every time I visit it seems cleaner and holier to visit this temple. Today we participated in the abishekam for Swami Purushottam, which was conducted by Mehul. It was wonderful to do this in pairs and no grandness with the ceremony but Mehul explaining the significance of the event. Right after that we went upstairs to attend the Aarti, which was conducted by Swami Tyagaratna Swami. Kannubhai was very gracious in accompanying us to the Mandir and walking me through the Aarti process. Once the Aarti was done Kannubhai introduced me to the Swami Tyagaratna Swami. The Swami before his current holy vocation was a dentist. He smiles very easily and very kind with his words. I recollected my covering the inauguration of the temple and my visit with the Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and the joy of working on the stories of the Mandir with the Swami. He offered to sit down speak to me at leisure and I promised to work on covering the temple at every opportunity I get. I promised myself that I would visit often and feel the peace of this wonderful Shrine. I encourage all the readers to make it a point to visit this holy place and experience the peace. They have a wonderful gallery depicting the many contributions to the arts and sciences along with religious contributions between corridor connecting the main hall and the temple and great space to sit and meditate. Although a new contribution to the many great places of the greater Chicago area, the BAPS center in Bartlett is definitely a place I am sure will be one of the most spiritually enlightening places of the great city. For more information on the Mandir visit www.swaminarayan.org.
Cold Weather and Winds of Chicago
I originally came from Andhra Pradesh in India. I think by end of February the mild winters of Andhra Pradesh are done, and by March it is hot and gets hotter and hotter. Some evenings the temperatures get to about 100 degrees and you feel the relief if there are mild winds. I remember that in a City like Hyderabad in temperatures of about 75 or 80 degrees, people thought it was cold and wore sweaters. As I write this there are about 15 to 20 mile winds blowing and cold but in 40’s in Chicago. This evening I was walking with just my shirt without a coat on while shopping and did not find it too cold. The weather is not too cold not too hot in Chicago, but if the weather gets to some 40 degrees in Andhra Pradesh as it is in Chicago as I write this week’s column, or in Southern India I am sure there will be catastrophes with people unable to cope with the winters. Then again who doesn’t like the weather of Chicago. It is always changing and by the time I finish this paragraph it might be cold again.
When I first came the cold never bothered any of my friends or me. We simply had limited cold experience and most times enjoyed the snow and cold of Chicago. I don’t remember my being worried too much at the temperatures or snow or wind in my new days of Chicago. Now a day I don’t worry either except the Internet keeps reminding me how cold or hot or snow or wind in Chicago. One thing for sure the weather is beautiful all the time in Chicago as it keeps changing all the time, and you will eventually get the type of weather or wind you like. Just stay for a little while and your weather wish will come true.
Time Warp With My Folks in Chicago (or is it in America)
My Indian habits of speaking and eating remain the same, as they were when I first left India for good for the good old USA. Lately there are a lot more Indians in the USA and as is in Chicago. So you find a lot of folks to speak Telugu, Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam or any of your choice Indian language in any suburb or city. I still remember the days when the only Indian folks we had were family or friends from school. When I was in school, we sought out any one who looked Indian (really any one from the Indian Sub-Continent) was a friend as they were so few of us. My friends Yash, Jay, Shahid, Nagesh, Eric, Raj, Arvinda, Kirti and Selvi (forgive me if I forgot names as there are a lot of them I was good friends with and still cherish my time with them) were together a lot and did a lot of things together. I think of them often and some of them I speak on an irregular basis. I am always happy to find my friends from school, and when I hear of them or read of them I am proud. As we all are a part of the Chicago landscape it is wonderful to have these guys as a part of your Chicago experience. Hey guys if you do read this, believe me that I was and will always be fond of my time with you all and I still miss you guys.
My favorite subject of food is still on the top of my list of same habits. I also notice that everyone around me also cherish the same type of food as was many years ago, and the favorites continue to be the same old Indian dishes. Aloo, dal, rotis and rice still feature in almost all meals at home and restaurants. Something new that has come into life is the Chinese combination of Indian food in some buffet restaurants. I am not too sure of this as there is plenty of Indian food available and I may not do justice to the term buffet with two types of great foods in one sitting. But it has a popular flavor and people seem to enjoy the Indian Chinese combination. In any case I eat the same stuff and with same style of food and if so much more conscious of what I what I eat in the Indian foods. Quarter century has not made me change any of my eating habits.
One big change in our daily habit of having lunch has dramatically changed. I am used to eating lunch in the cafeteria or eat a sandwich at my desk, or a quick bite with colleagues in a nearby restaurant. Now a days folks go home and eat a full hot meal. This is a trend that has become normal with the influx of IT folks, and commendable as a great big lunch (along with a great big breakfast and perhaps a great big dinner) everyday is a killer on the old gut, and must be tempered with generous doses of exercise. By the way where do you find time for exercise with all the work and time allocated for eating and family?
I remember the Krishna temple near Devon on Lunt Street well still. I think on Fridays the guys went there to say prayers and have a free feast. The food was great as I did go there one time in 1981, and they did not charge you for this. Today we have a great many temples (and very grand ones) all across the greater Chicago area. I like temples, and go to as many as I can. Once a week visit to one of temples helps in ask the big guy to give peace and prosperity, and our community is making sure we have the opportunity to form the bond with our beliefs. Our temples are now great places to congregate, and some of them have huge halls to facilitate the gatherings, weddings and cultural happenings. One good thing is most of them have good size parking lots to cater to a few hundred people and kitchens to support the Indian food being served with parties. The only time they get crowded is when they have to handle thousands of people on major festivities, and some of the temples are planning better and better to cater to the ever expanding devotee population. Also most of the temples have great kitchens, usually managed by volunteers and have great hot food. Try them out next time you are in a temple, and the kitchens of the temples nowadays contribute greatly to the income of the temples. So, by visiting the temple and donating generously, and also frequenting the temple kitchen and eating generously will help reduce the debt burden of the temples that still have debt, and help manage the ones better if they don’t have debt. I only wish all of them are debt free.
Speaking Indian language everywhere was uncommon as you hardly found anyone in the early 80’s except when you went to a party or to Devon. Even then you needed English as folks may not know your mother tongue and you ended up speaking in English to communicate. Nowadays that is never a problem. I have been practicing ample doses of multiple languages with people from India. Restaurants, mall, mailbox, grocery store (even the Mexican stores), movies, parties, temples, associations and any other avenue including work are great places where you find a great many number of Indian folks with whom you can easily converse in multiple languages. As I had written a few columns ago, many times in a combination of multiple Indian languages, and grammar, context and Indian idiosyncrasies are all included in the discussions.
Devon Then and Now
One place that remains the same is Devon. In 1981 or so Gandhi India Restaurant was opened (sorry if I get the date wrong), and is still there. I used to frequent this place as they had a buffet for fewer than five bucks (I think), and was a great deal to eat for hungry students. Some days I would eat the buffet and not eat for a whole day as I was so stuffed. All the guys like my good friend Ramu who for a period I lived with may be the cause that the buffet no longer serves unlimited tandoori chicken, and serve limited number of pieces of chicken at the table. We used to eat too much of this stuff. There are lots of great eating-places in Devon and the greater Chicago area. The difference is that Devon still has these little places that serve great food that still reminds me of India. Although the posh down town and suburban Indian restaurants are great to dine in, but the Devon Avenue still offers great treats. From sweets to biryani, no better place and no better bargains. The Jewelry shops look a little grander, the clothes merchants charge stiff prices, the roads and parking as dirty as they were a quarter century ago, with lots of the people still intact. The only difference is it is a lot more crowded, with a lot more of the newer immigrants crowding the place. I can’t complain as they bring new money and new enterprise to Devon. Devon still has great bargains, great food, the Indian look and lots of the same good folks. I don’t want to forget India Tribune (although not on Devon Avenue, but close by) has been around for more than a quarter of a century. Make sure you visit www.indiatribune.com. One major improvement I notice is that many shops have improved the outside architecture and overall features of the shops. This is great as they do attract more visitors and make the place look cleaner. And again the old problem of crowds, and non-available parking, dirt and papers on the road, poor maintenance is still there, while adding to the ambiance of the Indian Street we call Devon.
I have many more things that I am continuing to experience after all these years in Chicago, but I know that my publishers don’t want to publish my personal journal. But for those of us who live in Chicago I am sure you will agree this is a good place to call home. I am sure I will find someway to integrate more of Chicago into my columns. I love Chicago.