My father used to work as a caretaker of a little government guest house, which then used to be popularly known as IB (Inspectors’ Bungalow), in a little town that neither had electricity nor bus services. But it was somehow connected to the outside world through a rough and narrow road that remained blocked most part of monsoon. Since there were no hotels then, the guest house used to see a lot of guests, both the official types and the private visitors. There used to be a lot of ‘philingpa’ guests (white people) too. Through such interactions my father, it seemed, have learnt a bit of spoken English, which he was proud of.
I remember a Mr O’Brian, a Canadian volunteer teacher, who stayed at the guest house for about a month as there was no accommodation at the school. Like all ‘philingpas’, Mr O’Brian was also very curious to try on many Bhutanese things and ways. Seeing us eat a dish of chilli he wanted to try it and so he did. I don’t remember what he exactly said but, I do remember him literally locking himself up in the toilet for the next two days.
One day Mr O’Brian bought a new gho (dress for men) and a kera (belt) and he wanted to wear it to school. He has called my father to help him wear it. But my father, who was a bit hard of hearing and with the amount of English he knew must have heard it differently.
“Yes, I want bokhu (gho)” he admitted replying to the ‘philingpa sir’.
Mr O’Brian was shocked and did not know what to do. I was finally called in and as I went in I saw both of their hands on the neatly folded gho, each pulling it their way.
Equipped with the grammar and vocabulary of a class V student who has never been out of his tiny village in his life, I cleared my throat and proceeded to resolve the issue, which I somehow managed (I was surprised at myself).
Later on I learnt from my father that he heard the ‘sir’ say “Do you want bokhu?” to which he promptly replied “Yes I want bokhu”.
The request to help him wear the gho was heard by my hard of hearing father as offering him the gho, which he readily accepted. I somehow managed to convey to each what the other meant and we all burst out laughing.
On the day he left for his new accommodation in the school premises, the generous Mr O’Brian presented my father with a ‘bura’ (raw silk) gho, the same gho they had a hearty laugh over, just some weeks back. As I grew up I wore it to the Tshechu a few times. As characteristics of bura ghos, this particular gho looks more posh as it becomes more faded with passing time. Today it is a prized possession of my father,who still boasts to whoever cares to listen that he got the gho from a ‘philingpa sir’ who presented it to him for speaking good English. Of course only I and my mother know the secret behind it.