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Monday, January 24, 2005

Truth. Simple.

Today is the same day that exactly one year ago, during the Chinese New Year festival that I was in Nanjing. Roaming the streets of the former capital of China in the hope of finding a book on Chinese literature. Along with a friend, we searched every bookshop we could find. But no one seemed to have had the brilliant idea to print Chinese novels in any other language apart from Chinese. And just to cap the frustration, we couldn't find a single English book either. For someone who will go without food but not books and in fact, the whole of the week, I had hardly eaten anything apart from plain bread, the idea of going without books too seemed doubly cruel.

The very evening at dinner given by some Chinese friends, I mentioned this and that's when the international director of the school told me of 'Journey to the West', a novel based on the legend of the Monkey King. Lianyungang, where I stayed in China, was also where the Monkey King is believed to have stayed.

Some days later, while back at the school, I was asked to write content for the school's website. And then I remembered the legend of the monkey hovering around the city. So that's when I asked for a translator and had a fascinating conversation with the Chinese teacher. Who not only told me the tale of the Monkey King but also some simple truths. In the end, I was about to leave and as I turned, he turned to me, abandoned the translator and said in broken English: "You. On a journey too, yes?" For a second, I didn't know what to say... and when you don't know what to say, it is better to not say it. He struggled, forming the words over in his mind, searching for the little English he knew. "Life big. But truth bigger. And simple." "And what is the truth?" I asked. "Oh. Simple." "Simple? What does that mean?" I asked, wishing the man knew more English or I more Chinese. "Truth. Simple," came the reply.

I shook my head, not understanding and prepared to leave. Till, he suddenly turned and started searching his desk. I waited. Finally, the wait produced a dictionary. A Chinese-English dictionary. Minutes ticked by as pages were thumbed through and I am never good at waiting. Finally, with a flourish, he turned the book towards me and underlined the word he wanted. The word: Simplicity. And then I understood, truth is simplicity. Simple. "You no look for big truth. See... truth." "Yes, truth is simple," I said. Words beyond languages.

Even now, sometimes when I think that some things are too hard to understand... I remind myself that in fact the simple things are always the ones we overlook at first. And the second time. And the third.

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