Every year, it’s not guaranteed that my beloved and I will take a vacation. We do take time off throughout the year, but an actual dedicated vacation is something a bit new to us, after almost a decade of being together. While there are a few other trips on the potential horizon, this past week has been it for the year. We mostly piddled around the house and around town this week, and bounced a few travel plans around – finally settling on a day trip to Chicago. Saturday. My parents came with us, and it really made all the difference. Our plans were basic: Drive to northern Indiana, take the South Shore Line into the city and use the L to get everywhere, everywhere being two comic book shops for my beloved and Chicago’s Little India for me.
What actually happened was that we all carpooled into the city and got confused almost immediately within China Town, parked in China Town, boarded the L there and took it north to Devon Street, where Little India was supposed to have been. The first 20 minutes in the city and the last 20 minutes in the city were probably the most confusing. Luckily, the very first person we encountered was an L employee who was about as helpful as she could have been without actually riding the L with us – and she actually did do that breifly. You can see her below.
As soon as we boarded the L, we shot from the south side to the north and exited as close as possible to Devon Street, which Google indicates is the Little India of Chicago. Unfortunately, what Google doesn’t share is that there’s a good mile (more?) trek from the Loyola stop on the L to where Little India actually begins. On a hot summer day with Midwest humidity, walking a bajillion city blocks is miserable. Just about as miserable, though, is getting to your supposed destination and repeatedly finding only the same kind of stores: Groceries, dress shoppes, and eateries. Occasionally, we’d see a phone place or a salon of some kind, but the variety was lacking in the most disappointing way. Further, here in Indy, puja items are mostly bought at the Indian grocery stores. In Chicago, most of the groceries in Little India are actually more Muslim (Pakistani) than Hindu. In fact, this area of the city is alternately known as “Indo-pak” because of the very prominent Muslim presence. The result, as far as my shopping was concerned, was that none of the groceries we passed carried Hindu puja items like here in Indy. However, the closest thing we found to fulfill my needs actually was a bookstore and it was a treasure indeed!
The treasure trove discovered at the edge of Chicago’s Little India is called India Book House. We were almost passing it before we knew we were upon it, and after checking out a few Ganesha murtis in the window, decided entry was mandatory. The only way our time spent there could have gone better is if I were made of a little more of money than I am. This place was mostly a book store, but also carried a significant array of mandirs, music, DVDs, CDs, and murtis – many of which were of Ganesha. We spent a good hour in the store while I examined every square inch of the place, making sure no Ganesham went unnoticed. I left with five books: Shree MahaGanesh Siddha Vrat, The Book of Ganesha, Srimad Bhagavadgita (I have about 20 different versions of the Gita, but this is the copy most used at my temple here in Indy and I’ve been looking for an exact copy), The Thousand Names of Ganesha (this particular publication is only available for Ganesha, Vishnu, and Shiva), & Ganesha Puja Vidhi (a manual on proper Ganesha puja protocol as published by the Chinmaya Mission Trust.
I also left with no less than eight very unique Ganesha murtis some of which were good ole chaturbhuj forms, but I also nabbed a fantastic panchamukh and a 16-armed Mahaganapati which is likely to replace the Nrityaganapati as the mahamurti in my home’s mandir. I only say these are unique because I search the local stores and the internet on a somewhat regular basis and I’ve either never encountered these murtis before, or I may have seen close resemblances but not exact. Further, while I’ll admit to having spent hundreds of dollars more than I should have, I know from having already looked far and wide that the same murtis in most other places would be significantly more pricey. The multiple hundreds of American dollars that I spent were well-spent, indeed. Below, you’ll see a pic my dad took of me near one of the shelves with Ganesha murtis. I feel like the pic is a little goofy, but considering how exhausted I was from the trek there, the heat/humidity experienced, and then being nearly blissed out at the finds, goofy is what you’re bound to get from me.
Like the L employee, the man and woman who own and work the India Book House were immensely helpful and kind. Well, mostly the woman. The man mostly just tried to sell me on things I’d already spent 40 minutes looking at and decided against. That was annoying. She, however, assisted me numerous times making sure to keep my items at the register, freeing my hands free to grab more Ganeshams. She also gave me a couple swastikas free. And boon of boons! Near the end of my time there, I asked about locating some rakhis for upcoming Raksha Bandhan – one of my favorite Hindu holidays, and one I’ve been slowly preparing for. They didn’t have any, but she took my address and asked how many I wanted and how fancy I wanted them. I gave her all that info and she promised to grab me some directly from India, ship them to my home address, AND insisted I didn’t pay her for this! We’ll see if she delivers on her promise. If so, I’ll be quite pleased to finish my gifts to people! I still regret not getting a pic with them when I had the chance.
I’m not superstitious, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to thanking Ganesha in my mind and heart when we found the India Book House. We’d walked SO far already, had seen mostly useless stores – half of which were strictly Islamic – and were really about to give up, when we very suddenly found ourselves at the storefront. I’ve taken photos of each murti purchased and have posted to my Facebook Ganesha Collection album which can be viewed here, I think.
After finishing up at the bookstore, because we had spent so much time just getting there, it was time to grab lunch and get to some of my beloved’s shopping. We grabbed lunch in Lockerbie Square where I saw a Hare Krishna cross the street wearing a dhoti, neck mala, and t-shirt. He disappeared into an apothocary.
We kept moving and found our way to the comic stores sought after by my beloved. Sadly, he was disappointed by his findings, much as I was with Little India in general. And I’ll admit, for being nicely located in a place like Chicago the comic shops weren’t spectacular. In fact, we’ve been to small town places back in Indiana that had more to offer. After visiting his places and buying more things, we meandered a bit around the city ducking into one place or another and then decided it was time to head home. During our wandering we passed a gurdwara for the Chicago Sikh community and meditation center for Raja yoga of te Brahma Kumaris.
Sweaty and quite exhausted we worked the L back to China Town and left the city. Overall, I’m quite happy to have this memory with my family. I can think of about 50 others I would also have liked to have along for the day, but time like this with just my parents and my beloved is worth more than gold to me.
Excellent blessings were received from my first and most important gurus, my parents, as we enter the Shravan month and celebrate Guru Purnima. I don’t think God actually loves anyone in such a way as to favor them (after all, that would mean the at least occasional negation of karma), but when so many “good” things happen as they did, it’s hard not to feel smiled upon.
Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha