I guess I'm not much of a philosopher, deficient as I am in the requisite thinking equipment. The only important philosophical question that has occurred to me is
When you use the flush in a plane and the stuff disappears with a "whooosh" where does it really go?
According to Shakespeare, who seems to have studied the subject deeply, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. Who am I to argue with the Bard? I have been intensely suspicious of light drizzles ever since I read The Merchant of Venice.
But of late, I have been vexed with questions of an existential nature. "Who am I?" is a thought that often bothers me, though Sheela feels that it is not entirely a coincidence that these thoughts occur after consuming a few beers. So when the opportunity of taking a pilgrimage to Shirdi presented itself, I tarried not.
We took the first pit stop at Pune where we stayed with Sheela's sister-in-law's sister's family who have 2 kids aged 4 and 2 respectively. Joining us there were Sheela's brother Sundeep and his family comprising of one harried wife and three kids aged 5, 3 and 1 respectively. My kids, 13 and 10, looked like senior citizens. All these children were extremely adorable, except for the charming tendency children have of yelling, crying and throwing up without warning, sometimes simultaneously. The guys followed the time honored male response to juvenile crises - Go yell some place else - and thoughtfully sipped on Kingfisher draught. This brought forth thoughtful observations from the respective spouses as to what might happen to people who don't get off their fat butts and tend to their progeny. I had a large grin on my face throughout the proceedings since I had had the foresight to have my kids twelve years ago.
We drove to Shirdi very early in the morning - 4 a.m. in fact - the idea being that the kids would spend the entire journey fast asleep. This turned out to be perfect. The tots indeed slept the sleep of the innocent. Somehow I never got these bright ideas when my kids were growing up. Sheela and I would travel around in our Maruti van those days with all our limbs involved in driving, steering, restraining children from jumping out the window and in my case, occasionally heaping abuse on errant autorickshaw drivers. Compared to our travails this was serenity it self.
Sundeep was driving and I had the luxury of admiring the creeping crimson of day break. Presently, we came across a truck overturned, doubtless due to the driver having been observing the creeping crimson of daybreak. The truck was carrying a consignment of beer and there was a throng of happy looking villagers looking forward to a serious party at six in the morning, foraging amongst the cartons. The driver and his assistant were sitting on a culvert looking shaken but unhurt. All this had naturally caused a traffic jam - passing truck drivers had parked their vehicles and jumped into the fray. We were lucky to wriggle out of this one. The accident had just happened and word had gotten out. I could see villagers streaming in from every direction. It would have been fun to see all these people sloshed out of their minds at daybreak but we had a mission to accomplish.
Presently, we reached Sai Baba Temple at Shirdi and joined the queue. It was quite long and took us almost 2 hours to get to the main sanctum. But the crowds were extremely decorous and well behaved. Most of them were singing Bhajans. There were the usual devotees in a hurry, trying to get in through side entrances. One old man and his wife were simply jumping the line at every opportunity. No one seemed to mind, though.
Sai Baba is a mystic saint of whose origins little is known. He lived at the turn of the century and preached religious harmony. And lived in abject poverty in life, something which always wins my respect when I see it in people who have the adulation of the public. Mahatma Gandhi was another example. Have you heard of any of his sons, grandchildren, cousins, uncles, brothers-in-law, any one at all cashing in on his name? Contrast that with the present day bunch of money grubbing parasites masquerading as leaders.
Any way, I found Shirdi charming because of its simple, if garish, devotion. It is a bit tatty but thats because most of Sai Baba's devotees are poor people, but no less sincere for that. The other thing is the number of hotels here and their names. Almost all the hotels are named using the formula "HOTEL" + "SAI" + "$STRING$" where "$STRING$" is any alphanumeric string from "PALACE" to "AMRIT" to "KRIPA"
We headed on to a nearby town named Shingnapur which is famous for a Shani Temple. Shani is a demigod whose major trip in life, if astrologers are to be believed, is to attach himself to you and torment you till you pay your astrologer some money and get him to tell you what mantras to chant and when. We performed a prophylactic puja which involve pouring oil on the large stone that represents him. All throughout the wily residents of the place were trying their level best to rip us off. We put up a futile resistance till we realized that liberty was to be had by flinging small amounts of cash at all and sundry.
The drive all through was beautiful. This is good farming country, mostly sugarcane and grapes. The countryside was verdant. I guess the farmers are quite rich. The roads were quite alright by the exacting standards of Maharashtra where a density of 3.7 potholes per square meter qualifies as a superdeluxe express highway. We reached Pune in the evening, a bit weary but raring to get back home where some exciting homework awaited the boys. They tried everything in their powers to get their stay extended by a day. I was lending support from the outside, as they say in politics, but the motion could not be carried through because of determined opposition from the ruling junta, namely General Sheela Shenoy. So we trundled off to Mumbai, weary but chilled. And that constitutes my incoherence for today. Those of you who made sense of it, god bless.