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Published: June 17th 2013
Argat was the last large settlement they would encounter, and so, before leaving, they bought some provisions and a blanket for Ungel who was ill-equipped for the cold of the higher altitudes to come.
The rain had stopped, and the pools of water on the trail were evaporating rapidly. Their spirits were high and they were chatting happily about nothing in particular and failing to notice that the very narrow, raised paths between paddy fields they were walking along were in a fragile state. In a moment Frank was lying helplessly on his back turtle-like in the watery bed of the paddy field. Extricating himself from his rucksack was the easy part, but the bank had been softened by the downpours, and fell away each time he grabbed it. Instead of giving him a hand up, Hamish offered a radio-style commentary on his futile efforts. Spotting his plight, and not sharing Hamish’s propensity to derive amusement from it, Ungel returned and pulled him up onto the path.
“I’m glad you found it amusing,” said Frank, now covered in mud.
“Well, you must admit. It was funny,” said his friend.
Frank was feeling miserably wet, and annoyed with Hamish, and he wrapped himself up in silence as they walked in single file. But as the sun dried him out, his mood lightened, and he was able to turn his thoughts away from his discomfort to more uplifting matters. He thought of the bajay
's prediction that he would find God at the mystical lake they were heading for. What God was he talking about? The bajay
was a Hindu brahmin
, the priestly caste, so presumably he was thinking of a god in the Hindu pantheon. Did he have any particular god in mind? A handsome, blue-coloured Vishnu, maybe, riding his sun-bird Garuda? Or ashen-grey Shiva mounted on Nandi the bull? Or maybe the bajay
was thinking of the four-headed and four-armed Brahma, the ground of being, the all-pervading godhead, flying on his swan perhaps? Frank supposed any would do, each being an aspect of the Supreme Being, but he felt a mere mortal such as he might find such encounters a little overwhelming. Maybe he meant that any god of his choice would reveal himself? If it had to be a Hindu god, he'd go for Ganesh, the jolly elephant god and remover of obstacles: just the kind of god you want to take with you on a pilgrimage. Or was it something more abstract? If, as the bajay
said, God is truth, then truth presumably is God, assuming such equations could be applied in such rarefied realms of experience. Maybe all Frank needed to do was keep an open mind and seek the truth. Or were there many truths? If so, were they mutually exclusive? Zion, the Christian preacher knew where the truth was. It lay in the Bible. So did Hamish for that matter. Truth for him could be found in the scientific method. Both were certain that they had cornered the market in truth. But Frank had a gut feeling that truth had to be more multi-facetted than these two would allow. He was determined to keep an open mind.
They stopped for the day at a wealthy farm house on the hill. Their warm welcome at this house was due to the presence of ex-army people who had seen something of the world. One old fellow asked if Churchill was still Prime Minister of England, and was under the impression that Rommel had been his general. When he asked if Rommel had replaced Churchill as Prime Minister, Frank couldn't resist answering in the affirmative, but was severely told off by Hamish for making a fool of him.
“What difference does it make?” Frank asked.
“You shouldn't get cheap laughs out of someone's ignorance,” the moralist replied.
“If the cheapness isn't apparent to anyone, it isn't cheap,” Frank reasoned.
“It's apparent to me,” said Hamish. “And it may become apparent to him some time in the future that you've made a fool of him.”
“Fair enough,” Frank said, feeling chastened, and they fell silent.
They were plagued with bed bugs all night, and they slept fitfully. In the morning, incensed at seeing them engorged on their blood, they hunted them down in the seams of their sleeping bags, squashing them between their thumb nails. The fabric of the sleeping bags absorbed and preserved their blood.
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