Under The Gho

Friday, December 19, 2008 – Bhutan Observer

A dzongkhag official in Pemagatshel is missing something under his immaculate sethra gho. Underwear. He has never worn it. Despite this unusual fashion habit, 43 year old Dorji said that he is perfectly comfortable venturing out in his knee-length gho.

“Forty-three years of not wearing undergarments has instilled a natural instinct of saving myself from embarrassment”, said the dignified official. Born into a large farming family in rural Trashiyangtse, he said, “what mattered most was daily sustenance and outer garments in the form of patched ghos. Perhaps that could be the reason why trying to wear one in later days resulted in allergic reactions which even caused infections on several occasions.”

Dorji, a father of three teenaged school children, started school only at the age of 14 and recalled the two most embarrassing moments of his life. “I was 19 year old in class three in Tzenkharal School. I was caught doing mischief red-handed along with a friend by the Headmaster. The punishment those days usually involved flogging with a cane in the morning assembly. Although flogging s usually involved being on our hands, because of the severity of our mischief, we were also asked to strip off our ghos. When the headmaster found that I had no underwear, he broke out into laughter and no punishment was meted out as the embarrassment we had to endure was found to be punishment enough.”

The other embarrassing moment came after starting work. With age not on his side, he could not study beyond high school. No sooner had he found a job than he married. The arrival of his first baby, on a bus from Wandiphodrang to Trongsa, was untimely. “The bus was parked in the middle of the circular Wangdi town notorious for wind. I had to climb on the roof of the bus to bring down a bundle of clothes packed in a cloth bag called “bedding” in those days. The attention of all passengers and the townspeople were on us. No sooner had I made it to the roof that a strong gust of wind blew my gho up to my waist. People below burst into roars of laughter.”

Dorji admitted that riding a bike or climbing on the rear of a truck bothers him especially when there is a crowd. Otherwise, he is at ease with his life.

“On the insistence of my wife, I tried several times to bring myself to wear undergarments, but on my next trip to the toilet, I usually remove them and tuck them into my hemchu. The itching thereafter lasts for days leading to infections as well. As one point, I have to even visit a hot spring to get rid of the infection which failed to go away with medicines.” His wife has come to terms with his habit though she still sometimes gives him an angry stare and he quickly realizes what it means.

“I have learnt the language of those stares more than anything else,” he admits.