A hot test in a Darjeeling lodge

S Balakrishnan
Oh, don’t jump to naughty conclusions by the words hot and lodge. I was on a trip to Darjeeling after a week-long tour in Sikkim nearly 30 years later. My first trip to this hill station was during the Dashain (Durga Puja) holidays of 1986. Those days I was eking out a living in Gangtok and was on shore-string budget tours, frequently. Darjeeling then was comparatively a peaceful hill station compared to the much commercialised tourist spot of 2014. Well, you can’t be living in the past for ever, no? But the traffic jams both in Gangtok and more acute in Darjeeling made me think again and again of the nostalgic past.
I was head over heels visiting old places, comparing ‘now’ and ‘then’, the present and the past. Another reason was that I could refresh my Nepali language which I had picked up during my days in Gangtok, a solid 5 ½ years between 1983 and 1988. This bragging of my Nepali language was not to my daughter’s liking. ‘You are boringly bragging and braggingly boring’, she complained and said ‘I can’t stand it anymore.
‘Why not sit then ?’ I joked. It was a damp squib, I think, because she did not even smile. ‘You are repeating the same story everywhere, every time and to everyone ...that you lived in Sikkim some quarter century ago, as if eons ago, and that you had picked up Nepali language then and blah, blah, blah...‘
Surprisingly my wife came to my rescue. ‘Let him enjoy, let him have his quota of fun. It doesn’t cost anything’; she was so gracious because it did not cost anything! Merci!
(‘Thanks in French. How would I miss an opportunity to show off my single word French knowledge?)
So it was natural that I mercilessly tortured the lodge people as well with my half- baked and half forgotten Nepali language skill. Small and simple sentences like ‘coffee pauncho ke? (is coffee available?), ‘yaha aaunos tho (please, come here),’ ‘kothi dhoor ho?(how far?),’ etc. I could sense that my Nepali brought smiles to everyone. Or was it smirk? Well, I really did not care as long as it brought unqualified satisfaction to me.
But I did not realise then that it would ultimately land me in hot waters, sorry, in hot milk.
With coffee dear to get in these parts but my wife addicted to that beverage, we always carried Instant coffee powder – that too a particular brand only - to help us out in such situations. That night, after our dinner at a restaurant, we all felt like having hot coffee.
You see, coffee eases the heavy feeling after oily food. So I ordered for milk through room service. The young bearer, a naughty one, I must admit, who brought the flask of milk put me in a piquant situation. After placing it on the teapot, the naughty bearer casually remarked thus “doodh thatho cho”. For a second I was taken aback, flabbergasted.
“Thatho?” What the hell does it mean? I wondered; I was confused. Testing my Nepali skill?
Then I suddenly remembered the tourist spot “thatho pani” in West Sikkim, the hot water spring! So I managed to say a merciful “thank you, la” with a local touch of ‘la’.
My interest in tourism helped me escape the really hot situation. But it is a pity that I could never make
it to the ‘thatho pani’ hot spring. From the roof top of Hotel Apsara, we enjoyed the thatho coffee along with a glittering night view of Darjeeling. But it is a shame that we drank coffee in Darjeeling which is famous for the aromatic tea !
The smart bearer of Apsara Lodge, who wanted to put me to a “hot” test, understood that I wasn’t a mediocre Nepali expert. He mischievously smiled and left wishing us good night. I narrowly escaped from this hot situation because I had done my Nepali language homework studiously.
Though I left Sikkim in 1988, I still think in Nepali language and talk to self in Nepali; sometimes I wonder if I am mad but I do not want to lose touch of a language that I picked up the hard way in the cold Himalayan State of Sikkim. This language skill helped me during my trip to Nepal also. I was even writing my Gangtok days’ diary in Nepali. With my Devanagiri (Hindi) typing skill, I even cut stencils of Nepali press releases issued by our office (PIB). This was much appreciated by Shri Sarma, News Editor, All India Radio, Gangtok, who was doing part time Nepali translation for our office.
As they say, it was like getting Brahma Rishi title from saint Vishwamitra himself ! Oh, I think now is the time for a thatho coffee break or at least thatho paani break !
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