By Bindu Chaudhary, USA
If you are blessed with flat nose and chinky eyes, short stature, fair skin and have that “Shalaam Shaab” accent, you are a Nepali, no questions asked. If not, you are in a soup having to explain why you don’t look like one! I often am reminded of my primary classes where we had to re-write a spelling or a sentence twenty, fifty or hundred times if we made a mistake. Now the only thing that has changed ever since is verbalizing it, instead of writing it down. Mistake? No mistake of mine, whatsoever. I have been explaining and educating people about the geographical belts of Nepal and how the features differ from hills, mountains and the plains since a dog’s age and I am all geared up to do this until I am up on my stick, explaining the non-Nepalese and the Nepalese alike why I don’t look like the so-called ‘typical’ Nepali!
We know what makes Nepali a Nepali in Nepal. After my article “Proud to be Madheshi?” published in the Telegraph on August 25, I got overwhelming responses from people who were concerned about the issue.
Prasanna Lamichhane, a Nepali, working in Mumbai opines similarly. Whenever he makes a trip from Mumbai to Rupandehi, his way back home during vacations, the general introduction in train starts with where he is from, and he confidently replies he is from Uttar Pradesh- a bare-faced lie; because frustration takes his toll when he has to explain why he does not have the chinky eyes, and why his accent is not like those shown in Indian films, and so on. It is in deed a tough call not being able to proudly proclaim your identity.
Ritesh Chaudhary, in spite of being in the United States of America, is still pondered upon by his ‘deshi’ colleagues with questions regarding his facial features and the surname that does not look like a “Nepali”, but his patience and humor pays off when he ends the discussion with “Jai Nepal!”, startling some of his friends!
When I was in India for my further studies, I had a couple of friends from Manipur, North East India. With a fleeting glance, we were often mistaken with our nationality. I could relate my situation with them, as they too were in ‘identity crisis’ having those ‘Tibeto-Mongoloid’ or the ‘typical’ Nepali look that the Indians comb for in Nepalese. It was a royal pain me being confused with an Indian, and them with Nepalese! Looks can be deceptive! And so can be your language, attire, and your occupation…
So is it the “looks” and the “features” that make a Nepali? Or is it also the way you pronounce your words? If you have good oratory skill, people would doubt you again with the common: “But you don’t speak like a Nepali!” I swear, such comments are a real downer. So if you wish to be known as a Nepali when you are communicating with people of our neighboring countries, you better keep your “Shalaam Shaab” and the “Ji Shaab” accent, if you do not want to be doubted about your nationality!
It is like adding insult to the injury- if you are in a white color job, beware again! It is as if people are used to knowing Nepalese as “Bahadurs/ Chowkidaars/ darbaans (the gate-keepers/ the guards/ the cooks)”, “Kahchhas/ Kanchhis (the domestic helpers)”, or the “Dhande walis (the commercially and sexually exploited workers)”, or the “coolies” in hill stations, or the factory laborers, drivers, ayahs… and other low-paying jobs, rather than someone doing a high profile and top class job and earning a handsome.
It is the ‘more’ that sets an impression. The ‘better few’ therefore gets eclipsed under the ‘high demand and supply’ of beehive of activity of menial laborers from the Nepalese workforce market; the result of the relentless economic marginalization of Nepalis hinterland in the modern era, and the lack of worthwhile opportunities within the country.
“What, Nepalese enjoy a plain land too? Isn’t Nepal surrounded by mountains all around?” Many would give a blank look when you say you may not have even seen the range of Himalayas or the high hill mountains, in spite of being a Nepalese! Well, are they the genuine Nepalese, and do they live in Nepal? As a matter of fact, yes, they do! Nepal is not surrounded on all sides by mountains; it is the Kathmandu Valley which is! And it is very possible that a Nepalese may not have seen Mount Everest and the Himalayas and the mountains and the high hills if they are from the plain-lands!
In many ways, with my “not-so-typical” Nepalese look, accent, profession and location, I am able to make Nepal and Nepalese known more accurately than the media generally confines them to be. There is no ‘typical’ Nepali- there are Nepalese with long aquiline noses and those with flat noses and chinky eyes; Nepalese are from hilly mountains and they are from the vast plains; they may call you ‘shalaam’, or could call you ‘salaam’; they may be ‘Bahadurs’, or ‘non-Bahadurs’… they are, but all, Nepalese! It is a crying shame that a Nepal is seen, known and understood only in part. Media can play a good sport in shaking the mental block of our fellow citizens and neighbors in broadening the sense of a Nepalese. At least those of you, who have read this piece, please don’t ask me next time why I don’t look like a Nepali!
Entry filed under: Articles.