Full Moon Fast
Jun 2, 2005
"I'm going with Shirdi Sai Baba," Veena says since Guri had just shared his life story over lunch. Guri thinks a bit and adds Kabir in the mix. To go out in the left field, I bring up my homie Nag-Mahashaya (a little known disciple of Ramakrishna).
We are walking. And walking. Then, I propagate the game in my mind, "What if I win? I can't just call on saints like that. Ok, if I win, I should fast for the day." But on the tail end of 80 kilometers in two days, with much food, I'm really hoping to lose.
Unfortunately, I win. At least according to me. :) But darn, I really don't want to fast so, after some mental squabbling, I happily give up on the idea. But it turns out that the universe had other plans on this full moon day.Yesterday, we walked thirty five kilometers on few hours of sleep, stayed up late at a random person's house in Bhinar, got up at 4AM to start another 40 kilometer day that ends at someone's house whom we don't know.
We leave the house at 4:30AM, while our hosts are asleep. Our host is a young couple, with super-active 4 year old son; although the drunk head of the house offered us meat and alcohol at first, by the end of the night he was talking about his stories of service. Having never met anyone like us, they feel it to be a "meant to be" event in their lives.
With the moon shining bright, we are on the roads early to avoid walking in the 2PM heat. It's nice, hilly walk through foresty areas and by 9AM, we make good progress on our mileage. We are all tired, but as is our practice, no one talks much about how much about their body aches; it's an understood and accepted part of the trip.
Along the way, I notice an old man walking slowly in front of us. It's a barren road, primarily populated by trucks, so seeing a feeble man with a stick is an rather odd sighting. As I am about to cross the hunch-backed old man, I ask in a jubilant tone, "Dada, how are you doing?"
He mumbles something. I look to him to ask him another question and quickly realize that he's blind. The red sand on his feet is covering his torn sandals, his bamboo stick is too big for him, his clothes are practically rags. "Dada, where are you going on this lonely road?" I ask with silent tears in my eyes. He doesn't know; he finally says he's going to work and then plans to come back by night, but I think he just made it up. How am I to help him? Helpless, I do my little "may-all-beings-be-happy" prayer and walk with one thought in my head, "Why so much suffering? Why this suffering in front of my eyes?"
As Guri says, to quote Finding Nemo: just keep walking, just keep walking.
A bit later, a young priest on a motorcycle stops by Veena to ask some questions. Veena, not understanding him, points to me, 400 meters ahead. Like the dozens of daily curious passerbys, the young man dressed in all white inquires about our pilgrimage. "How much have you walked thus far?" "8-900 kilometers." His jaws dropped and he made a rather unusual comment while staring at my feet, "Wow. You are sooooo lucky."
Lucky?!? My shoulder blades are messed up and my arms almost numb, from carrying a laptop-weighted backpack. With the constant heat, I bet if I carried some grain on my head, it' be solar-cooked by the end of the day. Despite drinking any-water-is-good-water every other minute, it's not enough in comparision to the constant sweat dripping from every pore of your being. I don't know this is ideal situations to be jealous.
Still, the motorcycle priest is right. To experience pain, discomfort, unease, and the inevitable uncertainty, in the spirit of dharma, is certainly a privilege. I am lucky. With watery eyes, I keep walking.
We get some cheap lunch on the way, and the shopkeeper is nice enough to let us rest there for the afternoon. We take turns taking naps and reading a book of Shirdi Sai Baba's life.
Then, along the way, I come up with my silly game to guess the distance on the next milestone. Technically, everyone won because we saw a 5 on a board, 6 on a milestone on the side road, and a 4 on the way up ahead. I should fast, per my intent, but I am way too tired and way too hungry to pretend to be a tough macho pilgrim. So I just keep going without saying a word.
With almost 3 kilometers left to Dharampur, we cross our fifth wedding party of the day. Full moon days are big days for weddings. With one loud speaker, a keyboard and some electronic drums, one man is singing up a storm on his karoake mic. Women are lined up to check out the show on the left and men are crowded around this musical 'lahri' (cart) on the right. Weddings in the villages are big deal.
We walk together -- Guri and Veena don't get howled at if they're with me -- across the thick of the dancing to get to the other side. Music is upbeat, young men are dancing. I saw one particular kid dancing like there is no tomorrow, with his two hands flying up towards heaven, with his feet stomping on mother earth, with a big smile on his face that appeared to extend across the road. He is a poor kid, but today, in his fancy outfit and free spirit, he is living it up. What joy!
Immediately, I forget the irrationality of poor villagers spending a hundred thousand rupees for wedding, when their annual income is 18,000. I forget about how commercialized and consumeristic the village wedding has become. This is their celebration and they're happy. It's all ok.
With yet a tear of joy on my cheek, I walk on. It's a good day to be a pilgrim of life.
We end up at our destination. We interact with some people. It's difficult to be cheery night after night, after walking so much, but that's what every host expects. So I muster up all my enthusiasm, in the spirit that our host, and anyone else there, can share in the merits of our pilgrimage. We talk with a bunch of friends, but our lady host is absent. This lady is a friend of another friend who had hosted us in an earlier town; she had also started some 25+ year old nonprofit organizations, we were told.
We are shown to the place where we can bathe. Ah, a shower never felt better. A few minutes later, the bell rings. A man walks in and says, "We have six guests tonight. Would it be ok if you guys go to a hotel?" Immediately, I say, "Oh, don't worry about us. We'll be fine with our food." The kind, middle-man, relayed the information and showed us a way to get some food.
Of course, these people didn't know that we only have 25 rupees (50 cents) per day (per person) for all our expenses. And we weren't going to tell them. If it is offered, you accept it; if it isn't offered, you accept it. Surely, I could easily pull so many cards to impress the daylights out of anyone, but what's the point? I'm here, not to take what I want, but rather to take what is given.
We all drag our tired legs to the market to see what we can afford. Veena has a glass of 5 rupee mango juice, and Guri and I share one. We come home empty handed. It's especially hard on my stomach since I've been known to polish off a dozen bananas in one sitting. :) All of us are a bit stunned by the lack of hospitality by our lady host, but none of us say anything, even amongst ourselves. She must have her reasons.
It is a full moon night. Nag-Mahasay not only made an appearance on my milestone, but he gave deep strength to my weak intention -- I fasted.