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Published: June 21st 2013
The sahibs and their porter were resting and taking in the view. A range of mountainous hills undulated before them like a school of giant dolphins caught in mid-leap. Terracing rippled down them to the valley floor. Frank could see every shade of brown and green, and in the wrinkles of the hills lay great blankets of shadow. Little ochre houses dotted the terraced fields, like shells on the wave-rippled sands of a beach. Every inch of cultivatable land had been stolen from the rocks and trees, but that stony soil would only surrender the barest of livings. Frank could make out a turbaned farmer below them guiding a wooden plough behind two yoked bullocks. No sooner had he made a turn, than he was obliged to turn laboriously back again, so small was the terraced plot. The world stretched out before them was a carpet of silence woven with a few, tiny, bright, individual sounds: the sigh of water below, the farmer's cries as he manoeuvred the animals, the barking of a dog, the cry of a cockerel, and the squeak and thud of one of those wooden rice de-huskers they had slept next to in the outhouse the other night.
A Sherpa lama, a Buddhist monk with a head like a dried-up conker, joined them. He wore the dark maroon robes of his calling, and his hands clutched a transistor radio which he had bought in Kathmandu. He introduced himself as Anpoorba Sherpa, and, although he could see that they had oranges, he insisted that they had some of his. Frank gave him two of their oranges in return and he accepted them.
He spoke English and started by asking them the usual travellers’ questions: “Where you come from?” and “Where you going to?” He showed considerable interest in their destination. He said he knew of Chandrapal Pokhari
, but had never seen it.
“A fortune teller in Kathmandu told me I'd find the truth there,” Frank said. “Or God,” He added sheepishly.
“I see,” said Anpoorba enigmatically.
“Do you believe him?” asked Hamish.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” said Anpoorba helpfully. “Lake will not give you good answers until and unless you have question,” said the lama. “What your question?”
“Well, how about: what is truth?” Frank said, extemporising unimaginatively. “The bajay said that truth's like love. You know when you’ve found it. I think I know what love is. But I've no idea what the truth is. How would I recognise it?”
“What you think?”
Frank did not appreciate having his questions thrown back at him. He just wanted answers. “I've no idea,” he said barely disguising his irritation. “Won't I find it at the lake?”
“You not find it if mind not ready to hear answer,” Anpoorba said. “You must have right thinking first,” he said.
“How do I think rightly?” Frank asked.
“Listen to wise man,” he said. “Someone who already find truth.”
“We Sherpas, we follow teachings of the Buddha.” Frank asked him to elucidate this, and he laughed. “Difficult! Need life-time. Many life-times!” Frank egged him on. He laughed again. “This world make pain, sickness, sadness. Borning and dying make suffering.” he said.
“So, what's the solution?”
“Suicide,” suggested Hamish.
“No! No! No!” laughed Anpoorba. “That way, kill self, you prison self in samsara.”
“Samsara?” Frank asked.
“Yes. This world of borning and dying again and again.”
“So what’s the solution?” Frank persisted.
“Understand everything change. Enjoy happy thing, but not cry when happy thing pass away. Not hold tight to world, or to self.” He clenched Hamish's arm to illustrate his words. Hamish winced melodramatically, and Anpoorba laughed. “This understanding, very difficult. Takes many lives.” He turned to Hamish. “You also searching truth like your friend?”
“Only scientific truth,” said the arch-materialist.
“What you mean?”
“It’s the knowledge that makes it possible for your radio to receive sound,” explained Hamish.
“You must teach me this 'scientific truth',” said the lama looking at his radio.
“Um, yes,” said Hamish. “I will ….”
“Sahib, we must go,” said Ungel.
“Where are you going?” Frank asked Anpoorba.
“I am going your way,” he said. “You will stay at my monastery?” he asked.
“Um. Yes. Thank you. If we have the time,” Hamish said. They walked down a steep incline to the village they had observed from the top. Their lama friend followed them down with his radio glued to his ear.
A middle-aged woman and an older woman, presumably her mother, gave them shelter that night. It turned out that the older woman had passed through Ungel's village many years ago, and, on closer inspection, they recognised each other. She bemoaned the difficulties of life in her village, especially now that she was getting older. Ungel was quite the gentleman and assured her that she looked no different now than she did years ago. She told him that her son had gone to India, and nothing had been heard from him for three years. How would he know when she died? “Please look out for him and send him home to him,” the poor thing pleaded.
“Of course, grandma,” he said. They sat for a while by the fire watching the two women take turns in making a huge wicker basket, much bigger than Ungel's, which would be used for carrying leaves and twigs from the woods. The grandmother asked him if European babies were very small, and whether their mothers breast-fed their children, questions which he answered without bothering to draw on Frank's or Hamish's stores of knowledge.
They slept badly. It seemed that the household next door didn't sleep at all, and their noise disturbed them. As he turned restlessly, Frank spied Ungel helping himself to one of Hamish's cigarettes. He chose to ignore the crime and turned over to resume his hopeless struggle to find sleep.
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