Beating of Nepali hearts
Jaso gara, je gara, jata
sukai leijau malai
Yo mann ta mero Nepali ho
(Do anything, take me
This heart will always
be Nepali) — 1974 AD
They came, they were loved, they stayed back, and with them they brought immense talent. Talent so great that some have become synonyms for success and genius in their fields of choice. Their contributions cannot be undermined in any way, be it in the field of music, education or films.
Yet they are all from ‘Munglan’ and love Nepal. Renowned filmmaker Tulsi Ghimire says, “It is embedded in our psyche from childhood that we have to do something good for Nepal, our mother’s motherland.”
Each has a different story about why and how they came here, but they’ve remained with us and made our lives richer because of their talent, determination and dedication.
Musician-singer par excellence Ambar Gurung came here from Darjeeling almost 40 years ago on King Mahendra’s invitation. The king was impressed with Gurung’s composition Nau lakh tara, but Gurung declined the invitation. It was only on the fourth request that he agreed to come.
“I believe in destiny. I never thought I would stay in Nepal, but once here I got a job in the Academy and worked there for 28 years as Chief Musician, and then the Music Director,” says Gurung.
And 40 years on, he is the person who has been given the responsibility to give music to the national anthem of Naya (new) Nepal.
“People had encouraged me to go to bigger cities, but I felt I was more of a Nepali even then... I wanted to improve Nepali music, break boundaries,” says Gurung.
Over the years many others from Darjeeling hills have followed in his footsteps.
Phiroj Shyangden of the band 1974 AD is another musician who has made it big here. He came in 1990 and met Nirakar Yakhthumba while teaching at a local school in Kathmandu. They started a band that has been a trend-setter of sorts.
“We were the first band to perform a solo concert and the first to do a major international concert in the US. It opened up a way and encouraged others,” says Shyangden.
With seven albums to their credit from Time Out to their latest On Air, they are certainly one of the best bands in town.
Another musician from good ol’ Darj is Yuvraj ‘Vikku’ Chettri, guitarist and vocalist of the band Stupa. Perhaps many will recognise him better as the founder member of Rusty Nails, a legendary band in Darjeeling.
He had to reject an offer from Mumbai as his child was young then and he couldn’t travel. “But I wanted to pursue my career in music. Kathmandu was the best option as it is bigger than Darjeeling,” he says talking of his journey to the Capital.
“I am teaching music and feel I am a mentor to so many,” says Chettri counting it as his contribution.
As for Abhaya Subba, she came here on a holiday, got a job at Hits FM, got married and stayed back. It’s been 10 years now.
“Even the name of our band Steam Injuns was kept because in India you’re not an Indian, you’re Injuns. And in big cities you do feel alienated,” she says.
However, here she has managed to create a niche for herself.
“There was a vacuum that I wanted to fill,” says this rocker who believes one has to create opportunities for one’s self; you cannot wait for anyone to come and give it to you.
It is not just the music industry that has stalwarts from Darjeeling. There is a towering presence in the education sector in the person of Rani Gurung Kakshapati.
She came here on a shopping spree with her sister. There were some vacancies open, she applied and was selected for both The Rising Nepal and Radio Nepal in 1978. Two years later she got married and has been here since.
It is because of her that we have one of the best schools in the Valley for our children — Shuvatara, which was started in 1989. She established the Saraswati Teachers Research Resource Centre (STRC) in 1993, Jeevan Kalyan Kendra in 1997, and the Shuvatara International School in 2000.
Kakshapati is also running sister school projects. She feels other schools could also start similar projects, not with a hand-me-down attitude, but with the intention of understanding, sharing and growing together, and make an impact on the education system of Nepal.
Filmmaker Ghimire says he is here because of his Guru Kamlakar GG Patil.
“The guru dakshina he wanted was that I make 10 films in my mother tongue. Unfortunately he died a week after this. I felt I had to fulfil my promise, and made my first film Bansuri.”
The Nepali government then had passed a rule of refunding 50 per cent of the tax for film producers. As this was an opportunity he did not want to miss, Ghimire landed here. After Bansuri there has been no looking back for this showman of Kollywood. As a tribute to his Guru, Ghimire’s tenth movie was titled Dakshina.
He kept his promise and along the way he has received a lot of love and has felt a huge responsibility towards the Nepali film industry. And that is what has kept him here.
And yet a new Nepal still has to be established where a person can live without any fear.
Says Kakshapati, “After all the bloodshed and sacrifices, politicians should listen and learn from every sector. There is a lot of energy in the Maoists, but it should be channelised for constructive purposes. It is not by coercion but through trust without biasness that all should move forward.”
While most of them feel at home here, they have experienced instances when they have been made to feel like outsiders.
“I know people who have questioned why a person from Darjeeeling was selected to give music to Nepal’s national anthem, but they don’t say it to your face,” says Gurung of a very recent unpleasant situation.
And Chettri says, “The discrimination is there, but who cares? I think it’s time we moved beyond these petty issues. My children have grown up here, and I’d be more than happy to get a Nepali nagarikta (citizenship).”
Despite a few unpleasantness here and there, they all feel they are home here.
“I always felt very much at home here,” says Kakshapati.
Abhaya agrees, “I feel comfortable here. People have embraced me. Ek chhin kura garyo bhane dai-bhai bhayi halchha (after just talking for a few minutes you become brothers). They are very open minded. If you are talented, they accept you, regardless where you come from.”
Perhaps it is not wrong to say that a Nepali heart beats in each of them.