From time to time, as they trudged along, they would approach a village, and pass a wall, called a mani
wall, embedded with prayer wheels. On the first occasion they had started to pass by on the right hand-side of the wall, and Ungel had called them back and told them to pass it on the left-hand side. So they always followed him to the left, and span the prayer wheels. Frank was interested to find out from Ungel how much he knew about his religion.
“I am not educated man, sahib
,” he said.
“I'm sure you can tell me something,” Frank said.
“There's nothing to tell, sahib
. Everything we Sherpas do is Buddha religion. When I come to mani
wall, I go round in correct way and turn prayer wheels, and prayers go to heaven. I say 'Om mani padme hum
' like everyone. But lamas
know everything. They help us to follow Lord Buddha's way. They make prayers.”
“What about karma
?” Frank asked.
“Be good, sahib
. Don't kill. Do duty. That's all. Make merit for future, sahib
“I don’t know, sahib
. Please ask Anpoorba.” Why do sahibs keep asking questions?
They climbed to a little village clinging to the side of the hill where Ungel's three sisters were living. They welcomed Ungel with as little ceremony as they would have given them if he had been away just for a day. In fact he had seen them for just a few minutes six months ago.
The eldest sister was training to be a nun, and she was wearing a towel around her cropped head to keep warm. She and her younger sisters were running a little 'hotel' all by themselves. The 'hotel' was obviously not much of a money earner, since the parents, who lived some two hours walk away, had to top up their income.
Ungel embarrassed Frank by offering to sell them to him as wives. “How much for Hakki Sherpani?” he asked, referring to the middle sister.
“I haven’t any money,” Frank joked. Hakki Sherpani laughed when Ungel translated his answer. She said something in reply. More raucous laughter. “She say I am greedy, sahib
. She marry you no money,” he translated. “She wants know how old are you.”
“I'm 21. Hamish here is 25.” Hakki made suggestive smacking sounds with her lips to show her approval.
“Who's going to marry me?” asked Hamish in mock hurt. Hakki needed no translation. She got hold of her shyer younger sister and tried to pull her towards him. She dug her heels in and wouldn't be moved. More laughter.
The household settled down to the task of making the evening meal on a large mud Aga-style cooker. Each one knew exactly what she had to do, and worked in perfect harmony with the others, and with such infectious gusto. These girls made their cold, dark house, bright and warm. While the meal was being prepared, Frank opened his anthology of religious texts and searched for something that would shed light on what Anpoorba had been saying about karma
“Hey! Listen to this!” he exclaimed. “This is what the Dhammapada
says about karma
: ‘What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that draws the cart.
That's pretty cool. It feels right, don't you think?”
“It may satisfy you to believe that you manufacture your own fate, but there's not a scrap of evidence to justify it. It's just wishful thinking,” said Hamish.
“A helpful belief though?” Frank suggested. “Maybe a truth?” he teased.
“Maybe useful, if you need such props. But definitely not a truth!”
Ungel chatted long into the night with his sisters. In every lull in the conversation one of the girls would sing the verse of a song, and the others would join in with the response. Frank and Hamish were in love with them, and dreamt of stopping there and living with them forever.
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