Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Like any other metropolis Chicago has it's share of "dark alleys" and dirty patches. One such patch is "Made in India".

It's the portion of Devon street which has the most Indian shops per mile. Devon street actually runs right through the heart of city and goes all the way to north and west suburbs. But the extreme east and south part of the street is where the fun is.

As you go due east, there's a visible change in the environment. You can see all Jew shops lined up on both ends. If you go on weekends to Devon, you'd see Jewish families in their traditional attire. After going further and passing a few blocks you start seeing Sari and Jewelry store. Now you officially enter the Indian domain. Names of shops like Sarita, Jyothi, Patel galore. And before you know you are surrounded by tons of desis, with very bright colored clothes. The colors are in-your-face and in-your-eyes bright.

The first 15 to 20 minutes is invested in finding a decent parking lot on a good day. On bad days, you pretty much give up after, making like, 4 or 5 rounds on the same road. If you do happen to get a parking, you walk down the Mahatama Gandhi Street. That's where the core group of shops are. The Patel Brothers, the Sukhadias, The Mysore woodlands et al.

It's hard not to notice a few things. Manikchand Gutka pouches, bright red spit of "paan", paper and other peripheral garbage are some of the things you see as you walk down the "walk of shame". But it's easy to see that most Indians are at ease with the situation. It's almost like they have left the America they live in far behind at the last block, and have smoothly eased into "their" country. It's almost like we are "at home".

The traffic too is very "Indian". The place where i get the most honks per minute of driving, is Devon street. Not because i break the rules or something, it's actually because i follow them. People at Devon don't like it. It's like i am slowing things down for them if i yield to some pedestrian. "Move out you bugger" and then a horn is what i get.

Devon has a mix of India and Pakistan shops. There have been riots too at some point, apparently. The street is actually divided into a MG Road and a Mohammad Ali Jinnah road. The boards of "zabiha halal meat" confront you as you walk through the Pak dominated shop.
Looks to me like Indians and Pakistanis on Devon are equal opportunity abusers. They contribute to the mess equally. Can't play no favorites here.It's almost like India and Pak are united in creating a united mess. (At least somewhere we meet)

Devon in some ways is the counter foil to the posh side of Chicago. As you move away from street and drive due east you end up hitting the Lakeshore drive, arguably the most plush road of Chicago. Devon is like the "bizzaro-Lake Shore drive". Like Seinfeld says - "bizzaro Superman". The Anti of something. The anti-hero. Devon street which is just about a mile from lake shore drive is the exact opposite of Lake shore drive. Crass, ugly, uncivilized and totally in-your-face. The tall, hip, very urbane buildings on Lake shore where some celebrities live, are as near to Devon as Peddar road is to Worli slums in Mumbai. The resemblance is uncanny.

So i read somewhere that you can take a man away from country but cannot take country away from him. Sounds like this phrase has many variables. In anycase, nowhere in Chicago does the phrase stick more than at Devon. The arrogance of shop owners, the messy streets, the bright/loud people, the honking of cars, the complete disregard for "others", the mad rush at grocery stores (to save that 10c on rice bag), vendors selling sugar-cane juice outside on streets, bargaining in shops....

The day i feel i have been sanitized enough, and i need to mess up a bit, I take a trip to Devon. Turns out, the India i know is just 12 miles South

1 comment:

Pie said...

Yeah well everytime you think you miss India, you're just a few miles away.
It's funny how everyone is so proud of the fact that they can break rules anywhere...its a passport to Indianism.
They just love to be in another country but want the same benefits(such a bad term) of spitting pan and gutka and honking...I wont be surprised if they start urinating in dark alleys like they do in India. Such a shame really!