A foot in my mouth
By Vivek Hande
It was a pretty long time ago- almost two decades since. I received my transfer orders to Bhutan, as a young medical officer, with a considerable sense of excitement and anticipation. I wondered, what exotic treasures and experiences did the land of the peaceful dragon have for me. It was an eventful two years and I still recollect with great pleasure, the wonderful friends I made there and the rich tapestry of memories of days spent there still makes me glow.
I am definitely richer for the adventures and associations I had in this very lively, vibrant and verdant country. The Bhutanese are a very warm, simple and affectionate lot and it is not for no reason that they are amongst the happiest in the world!
These strong and sturdy people greet you with an enthusiastic “kuzuzang-po”, in welcome and nod “tashi – delek” in affectionate farewell every time you come across them. As a young doctor, I was able to move all over Bhutan and get to know the locals and gain their confidence. During my brief sojourn in Simtokha, a few kilometers short of the quaint capital city Thimpu, I had gained some mastery over the local language –Dzongkhag.
Keen to explore Thimpu and try my newly acquired linguistic abilities, I trekked upto Thimpu , one bright Sunday morning. I looked around the markets and the gardens and the lovely gumphas . Trudging back to my location, a bit exhausted after my excursions, I flagged down a passing Toyota and requested the gentleman to give me a lift. A pleasant looking, dignified man and too cautious a driver for my liking.
We got talking – a mix of English which he spoke perfectly and Dzongkhag , which I spoke imperfectly. I told him I was a doctor and he reported that he was working in Thimpu. When he learnt, I was a doctor, he asked me about the health scenario in Bhutan from a neutral medico’s perspective. I conveyed my dissatisfaction about the work being carried out by the Department of Health and lamented about the haphazard and inadequate medical infrastructure and facilities in general. I spoke about the poor vaccination coverage and the lack of toilets in public spaces. I made no bones about my disgust about the state of affairs.
I realized that my friendly driver was certainly an enlightened and interested citizen. Having reached my destination, I thanked him and bid him “Tashi-Delek”. A week later, at a banquet to honour a visiting dignitary, some senior ministers of the royal government of Bhutan were also invited. My heart sank when I saw everyone stand up to welcome, His Excellency, the Honourable Home Minister of Bhutan – Dago Tshering – none other than my “enlightened driver friend”!
I was told, much to my mortification that he was then, perhaps the second most powerful man, after the King of Bhutan. I was quite flabbergasted to think that powerful ministers could be such simple men and drive their own cars, sans security and other paraphernalia.
On being formally introduced to him, I could see more than a glimmer of recognition in the ministerial eyes. He put an arm around me and greeted me as an old friend while I blurted a very weak “Kuzuzang-po”!!!