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Published: June 24th 2013
The trail was a busy one with travellers from all over Nepal, their dokos weighed down with fire wood, vegetables, and for the tea shops, biscuits and soap and tea - the nuts and bolts of the Himalayan economy. Ungel's party caught up with porters bearing 15ft. long steel bars stuck through their dokos, for the new bridge. Ungel tried to lift one, but couldn't. He told his sahibsthat the bridge was destined to span the Triyangdi river which they would have to cross by canoe the following day.
“It's going to be a big bridge,” Frank said. “I wonder if they'll get it built in time for our return trip.”
“Some hope,” said Hamish gloomily.
They approached a small settlement and they made straight for the tea shop. The shop was surprisingly well stocked and they were able to purchase rice, milk, oranges and eggs to replenish their stock. Ungel made a rice pudding, called keer,
for them. It was not sweet enough for their taste, but they were hungry and judged it delicious.
Their good spirits had returned, now their bellies had been seen to. Their legs were weary from the morning's exertions and they were in no hurry to get back to their feet. While Ungel occupied himself hard boiling the eggs for future need, they propped themselves up against a large rock, closed their eyes and soaked up the afternoon sun. Frank was thinking about Hamish's explanation of the scientific method. He opened his eyes, and addressed Anpoorba who was sitting nearby.
“So, Anpoorba. What do you think of science?”
“Interesting,” he said with his usual laugh. “I agree science can make radio, and maybe other wonderful machines, but this is not truth. Thinking only of this world make us prisoners in this world. We believe you have what you desire. If you desire this world, then you always have it, life after life,” said the lama. “You born and you die in this world of pain again and again for ever. I believe one day you want free yourself from this.”
“But there's only one life,” said Hamish. Anpoorba looked at him with bemusement.
“I think you only person in world who believe that,” he said incredulously.
“How d’you know re-birth's true?” asked Hamish. Anpoorba frowned in puzzlement. Frank could see that he was asking himself: Surely I don't have to explain this?
“When our rinpochay dies, we find him again as child.” He was referring to the head lama of his monastery.
“How?” Hamish and Frank asked simultaneously.
“The child, he is shown rinpochay's possessions like beads or bell. If he pick them, like he know them from past life, they know he is re-born rinpochay. Many examinations like this. If not, then they look for different child.” Hamish and Frank glanced at each other.
“In England very few believe in reincarnation. We believe there's only one life in this world,” Frank said. “So there's just one chance to prepare for death.”
“It is difficult to have enlightenment in one life. Not enough time for most people!” he said with his trade-mark laugh.
“So the rinpochay's born again and ….he's the same person?” Frank asked.
“Are you same now as child? Like all things, we ever changing. Moment by moment. We never can keep self,” he said clutching at the air with his fist.
“But surely there's something unchanging? I feel the same person. My family says I am the same person. I was Frank then, and I'm still Frank now.”
“When bird flies across sky, we can think of line between starting point of journey and finish of journey. But line is not real. It is just path we remember, but it not exist outside our… mind.”
Hamish intervened. “That makes sense to me. In geometry, the line between two points is a fiction. Same kind of idea.”
“Do you really go along with the idea that we're nothing more than a bunch of memories?” asked Frank, addressing Hamish.
“Well, what else are we? I mean, not a single atom in your body today was there when
you were a child.” Anpoorba was nodding vigorously, sensing that he had got his point
across even if he didn't understand the precise point that Hamish was making.
“Memories are real, surely? So something permanent remains,” said Frank.
“But nothing of the matter you’re made of,” said his materialist companion.
Ungel had been some way off chatting up a couple of Sherpa girls, fellow travellers, but now he came over to them and gave them their marching orders.
That evening, anxious about their diet, they bought a fine cock, and had fun chasing it around the village until Ungel caught up with it, flapping and squawking. While he busied themselves on the veranda of one of the village houses, reducing the bird to a meal, Hamish and Frank sat on a rock with a view over the mountains. The sun was low and they gazed in silence. The mountains had lost their solidity and were now washed with a delicate pink. The dead bracken and fern and pine needles that lay on the mountain sides glowed in warm, surreal colours in the changing light. One colour slid into another, and Frank couldn't identify the exact boundaries where the colours merged, deep brown becoming pink, or maroon or purple, or a dark green merging into brown or grey. Frank challenged Hamish to describe the scene to him, which he did in a ridiculously prosaic way.
“Well, there’re lumps of rock, some are so big we differentiate them from the smaller ones by calling them mountains. And there are various species of flora, and no doubt plenty of fauna that I can’t see at the moment. Oh yes I can,” he said looking at Frank. “You, they, me, look solid, but in fact are mostly empty space. The light from our nearest star's reflecting off different surfaces to give the appearance of different colours. The colours depend on which wave-lengths in the light spectrum are actually reaching our eyes. Unfortunately, most of what’s out there can’t be perceived at all by our senses, so we’re missing a lot.”
“Yeah. Well. That kills off the poetry.”
“Of course, if I were a bat, I’d be listening to the landscape, using echoes rather than light waves,” he added. “I’d be interested in the acoustic texture of the surfaces, not the colours. That's poetry isn't it?”
“Well, actually, it seems that you’re backing Anpoorba’s point about the limits to our ability to perceive reality. He had a good point. Seeing isn't believing, which seems to contradict your materialistic view of the world.”
“Yes, he did have a point. Reality’s a lot more complex than it seems. We’ve evolved to interpret what we see in ways that help us get by. We've got to trust our personal interpretation of reality, or we couldn't survive. The trouble with Anpoorba’s analysis is his conclusion: that we can understand that reality via lifetimes of meditation or whatever, instead of through scientific effort.”
Their hostess was a rather sour-faced middle-aged woman. She had two young children in her care who watched their every movement intently. As they ate their chicken and rice, the children whispered to each other and giggled, which became tiresome after a while. In the family’s favour, they had some excellent raksi to sell them, and they drank rather a lot.
“What if I get to Chandrapal Pokhari
and find there's no such thing as ‘the truth’?” Frank slurred.
“That'll be the truth,” Hamish replied.
“If you say the truth is that there is no truth, then you're contradicting yourself,” Frank said.
“That's true,” said Hamish, and they guffawed.
When it was bed time the family went up a ladder to the loft, leaving them to settle down downstairs. Frank heard the children ask questions about them, and his knowledge of Nepali was sufficient to overhear this exchange:
“They have such lovely things, don't they mother?”
“Yes, but that doesn't make them happy,” came the reply.
Frank was too hot that night and the raksi
had made him thirsty. He didn't sleep a wink, and they were awakened at 4.30 by a strident cock they should have strangled in place of the one they ate.
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