Rupla is a Nepali man who works at the Labrang. Rinpoche trusts him completely. His sister-in-law also works here, and her daughter, but his wife and children are back in Nepal and he visits them once a year.
When I first visited Bir, Rupla didn’t seem to speak much English. I would smile and say good morning and good night, sometimes offer the odd thumbs-up sign, or, when needs must, ask for a toilet roll in sign language (Rupla is the guardian of those rare and expensive symbols of western civilization), but didn’t think to engage any further.
However, this visit, I learned from Rupla that he has been learning English by himself at night. “One or two words a night,” he explained, smiling broadly.
So, yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t surprized when he asked, “How are you?” It’s a phrase all language students like to get under their belts when they start a new language, so I responded appropriately.
“How much to do you weigh?” was the next question. Not one I’d anticipated, I must say, nor one whose answer could possibly hold any interest for him, nevertheless, I answered truthfully.
“60 kilos.” And, being polite and keen to help him practice, I asked, “How much do you weigh?”
“Low 60 kilos, high 68 kilos,” he beamed.
“Well, we’re about the same height, I think,” I replied.
“Five foot nine,” he said. “And you?”
“Five foot seven.”
And he stood by me to measure our heights, like a six year old might, and we laughed.
Back at my computer, I started thinking (instead of working) about how easy it is for people to become like furniture. We, or in this case, I, hadn’t even considered the possibility that Rupla might want to learn to speak more English. Like my desk at home, I expected him to retain exactly the same shape and position, and the possibility of change didn’t even occur to me. Yet, he has worked to improve his English to such a degree that more words were exchanged between us in those thirty seconds than in the previous seven years. And I find that strangely moving.