"For the love of Biryani."- This chapter is surely going in my biography.
After my friend told me about a famous hole-in-the-wall biryani place, I could do little but think of how to get there. So this is roughly the sequence of events that happened that day.
11 am- The conference talk is really boring. I want to get out. I ask my adviser if he wants Indian food (he loves it). He has a lunch meeting. I check for bus directions to get to Devon Street.
11:20 am- I am on bus one. It takes me by the Lake Shore Drive. I get beautiful views of the turquoise aquamarine Lake Michigan.
11:50 am- Take bus 2.
12:15 pm- Still on bus 2. It takes a turn and gets on to the much acclaimed Devon Street (famous for Indian food in Chicago). Dozens of Punjabi aunties, patiala-style loosely fitting salwar kameez clad, get on the bus. Everyone is talking in Punjabi. It seems like a different world. More Punjabi aunties get on the bus at subsequent stops.
12:20 pm- Get off the bus. Walk 3 stops. See the restaurant. My stomach rumbles. My pilgrimage is over. I know that I am only a couple of minutes from attaining biryani-nirvana.
12:22 pm- Man at the restaurant tells me that the shop is being renovated, and I can only order take out. I see a sign nearby, "Parking at the rear. We deliver." I wonder if I am the only dirty mind who finds it funny.
12:24 pm- I ask for a menu. They give me one. I am thrilled to see that everything I want is $4.99. That's a steal. I order. I wait. I discover that they are open 24/7. I resolve to visit again before I leave Chicago.
12:25 pm- I watch scary-looking hefty men empty heavy sacks of wood, stones, marble chips, and construction materials into a large truck. There is an incredible amount of dust. I wonder how my biryani will magically emerge from the dust. I have no way of peeping inside. I wonder if I should also get a side order of digestive pills.
12:27 pm- I suddenly get startled to hear, "Rishi! Rishi! Jaashna. Jaashna." (Don't go Rishi). I look to find a typical Bengali looking man wearing Anil Kapoor's cap from 1942 A Love Story, trying to discipline two monkeys as he waits for his order of tandoori chicken. The boys run around and try peeping inside the construction site. I hear more of jaashna, korishna, douroshna, dhorishna. I am reverse-surprised. I have always heard Bengali parents in the US trying to train their children in Banglish (English spoken with a Bengali accent).
12: 40 pm- My order is here. I offer my credit card. They only take cash. I hunt in my purse, to find a few hundred Euros, and a US credit card and debit card. They point me to a certain Baba Bazaar where there is an ATM. The name has me in splits.
12:42 pm- I hunt down the Baba Bazaar ATM. While I try to get some cash, the annoying man at the counter tries to make conversation, asking me the same set of question every non-White US cab driver or Indian-origin man running grocery stores ask. Where are you from in India? Where do you live now? What visa are you in? Did you get full scholarship for school? I have tried tweaking these answers for my entertainment. Like once, I said that I am a domestic help from Kerala.
My card is denied twice in the meantime. Flummoxed, I realize that I am using my credit card. I insert my debit card. Baba Bazaar uncle still wants to know why I am in Chicago. I see that they will charge me a fee of $2.50. That's half the price of my Biryani. I decide to order two plates now.
12:45 pm- I am back. The guy offers me my food. I order some more. I wait. I ask the guy if he gave me spoons. He says yes.
1 pm- I walk 3 bus stops. I was hoping to eat at the restaurant, but now, it looks like I will have to sit on the last seat of the bus and sneakily eat a little while the driver isn't looking. As if on cue, my stomach growls again.
1:25 pm- I board the bus. I take the back seat. To my horror, I discover that the guy gave me no forks or spoons.
2pm- I am still on the bus. The smell of food is killing me. My food packet is hot, and it is scalding my thighs, slowly killing me. The plastic bag they gave me is really thin, and tearing apart. I hold on to my food for my dear life. I am also carrying a DSLR camera, 3 lenses, a passport, and a purse full of Euros and credit cards. But it is my food I hold on to the tightest.
2:15 pm- After 50 minutes of a bus ride in which the bus stopped at every stop, every corner, every post and pillar, I get off the bus.
2:25 pm- I walk to my hostel. I go to the kitchen and get some forks.
2:30 pm- I get in my room. I sit on the floor. I open my food. The gastronomic foreplay has lasted almost 3 hours now. I think of taking a picture. Then I say, "Screw it!" I take the first mouthful.
2:31 pm- My friend was right. It is one of the tastiest biryanis in the US. I attain gastronomic moksha.
3 pm- I am ready to take a nap. I think that I have earned it. Conferences can wait until tomorrow.