Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My name is NOT Khan

Every new year's eve in Chicago, city transport is free from 8 PM till 6 AM next day. Having lived most of my life in the US as the archetypal desi grad student, I immediately made plans to make best use of the free rides (technically they are 1 cent per ride, however, most of the drivers waive off that also). I'd been out of agarbathis for a few days, besides having run out of matches as well. Daily velakethifying (lighting the lamp) is one of the chamathu things I manage to do everyday, and since I'd run out of agarbathis as well as matches, just lighting the vilakku (using used matches with fire from the stove) felt so inadequate & incomplete. And the closest place to get these 2 items navigable by public transport in Chicago is the now-infamous Devon St (Headley's accomplice Rana's hideout). Besides, I also had a few personal materialistic interests - namely food, to get from there. The catch was that most shops/restaurants in Devon close by about 9-9:30 and since it takes about 1-1.5 hrs to reach there, I was going to cut it close.

In any case, I was planning to go to Navy Pier for the midnight fireworks, so I took the chance. Rather surprisingly (for me), I left home sharp at 7:58 to head for the train station (in retrospect, I could've left at about 7:50), and after making the necessary switches from bus->train->bus, I reached Devon by about 9:07 PM, which is mighty quick. Alighting from the bus, I immediately dashed to dear ol' Patel Bros, only to find it almost shut and one Amrish Puri-like thatha grumpily guarding the shut door from inside, just to allow the last few customers already inside to get out. I am not a guy who generally identifies a lost cause when he sees one, and since I have firm faith in God [:D], I thought I'd make a push for it, since it was primarily agarbathis I was buying - so I begged the old fellow to get me in, JUST to buy the agarbathis. While I was haggling with him, another local desi, in typical desi fashion, nonchalantly slipped past directly to get some snacks (hmph!). The thatha saw the other guy go and rather reluctantly allowed me too inside. Of course, agarbathis were the main reason for me, but I wasn't going to let slip this opportunity to quickly grab some namkeens too (memories of classic SRK in DDLJ). When I was busily scanning the agarbathi-stack to get the cheapest ones (grad-student-mentality), I was losing precious time. And by the time I'd chosen two decent-enough packets and was able to head to the main snacks-area, the old man bellows from behind asking me to check out, failing which he would chuck me out. Reluctantly, I dragged myself to the billing counter and had to make do just with the agarbathis.

But wait, there's also the match box right? And I didn't tell you about my original plans for, ahem, "procuring" it. Well basically, all the match boxes I've used so far were originally bought in India. Somehow, once, I dropped into this vege-restaurant on Devon St called Uru-Swathi, which had a few ultra-small match-boxes (obviously meant for smokers) and I managed to swipe them once. Since it was emergency now, and I knew nowhere else where I could get them match-boxes, I included Uru-Swati as my other major stop on that (holy) smokey expedition. Here also, you must appreciate my Computer-Science-induced orey-kallula-rendu-maanga mentality. Though match boxes were the motivation for me to visit Uru Swathi, I wasn't going to let go of a good opportunity to treat myself (New Year's Eve or otherwise) to some Paneer rolls I'd been eyeing for a long time now. The Patel Bros-partial-disappointment notwithstanding, I was determined to make Uru Swathi count. Having checked the outside signboard to ensure it was "OPEN", I marched in righteously and placed my bag on the table and was almost seating myself when the head waiter/owner, a frail Gujju gentleman (another Amrish Puri, a kinder one at that) frantically waved me out. With a Vadivelu-esque "Innum evlo peru da adippeenga?" shrug, I prepared to exit when I remembered my primary mission - the Vathikuchis. So, rather decently, I asked the old man permission to piss and rather nonchalantly, walked up to the billing counter (the kakkoozi was just past the billing counter) which was, rather thankfully for me, quite crowded. While I was strategising how to get the match boxes, I overheard a woman asking her husband to taste some laddu (I noticed later it was made of yellu, sesame I think). By Lord Almighty's Grace, it so happened that the match-boxes were right next to the vessel containing the laddus to be sampled. Mustering all my poise, I pretended to take (only) the laddu and parallelly swiped the only two remaining match boxes there. Apparently, the Lord was happy with my devotion that it so happened that the laddu I tried to reach for was stuck to another one. Since I am someone who hates to separate people, for the sake of the two laddus, I took them as one (Understandably, I don't appreciate the Iyer-Iyengar divide as well...Hari'yum Sivan'um Onnu....Ariyaadhavan Vaaila Mannu...Arinjavan Vaaila Laddoo :D). Paah, and what a heavenly taste those Laddus had! Probably Prasadam disguised or just my hunger, but I never expected I would relish Sesame laddus so much!

And thus, (just about) successfully, ended my DDLJ'esque SRK-role-play (no surprises for guessing that there was absolutely no trace of any Kajol) with the realization - My name is NOT Khan.
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