WOW | People

The global Nepali

Text: Anushka Shrestha
wow photo file © Ram Tandukar/Gokul Shrees

In this edition of WOW, meet the generation of go-getters who are striving to make an impact in their chosen profession, live in different parts of the world and yet stay deeply connected to their roots! Here’s what they say about being a Global Nepali.

Rehan Shrestha
Content Creator
(Melbourne, Australia)

Rehan is Content Creator and Digital Influencer based in Melbourne, Australia. He never fails to amaze his 18K followers on Instagram with his well-put fashion and travel feeds. Recognised for his unique fashion sense, the 25-year-old has been collaborating with some of the biggest brands, luxurious hotels and the most glamorous fashion shows.

What are you currently busy with?

Apart from the usual fashion undertakings, I am presently working on a very exciting project with the Visit Nepal Year 2020 team. I am looking forward to bring together the power of social media marketing and the prominent weight of influencers and content creators to promote the beauty of my home. I won’t get into too much detail as yet, but just say watch this space!

How did you develop an interest in fashion, lifestyle and travel?

My interest in fashion began awhile back. I was always super attentive to it. In my secondary school even though we had uniforms I constantly experimented and created some exciting looks; this definitely got me into a lot of trouble. When I was in high school, I organised an elaborate fashion show for charity collaborating with different designers and labels. Hence, it is safe to say the inclination towards fashion was always prominent and as they say ‘morning shows the day’.

Same goes with travel, I think rather than it being an interest, it’s a part of life. Breaking that monotony of your daily life and immersing yourself in a completely new environment with different experiences can do wonders for your mental and emotional health. Travelling allows you to explore new cultures, embrace new ways of life and helps you grow as a person. Most importantly it’s humbling, it makes you realise how insignificant you are in this big world; so much to learn and do.

As for the lifestyle section of the content I post, it is just an umbrella term for everything that is a part of my life and the choices I make… from food, events, grooming to fitness, spirituality and my hobbies.

What were you doing before you became a popular Instagrammer?

(Laughs) Isn’t everyone on Instagram an “Instagrammer”? I would identify myself more as a content creator and it is something that I have been doing for over four years now. As I was completing my studies in Melbourne, it is something that kept growing as I progressed through my degree. Now those university days are over, I am finally getting to fully invest my time to see the full potential of it.

I believe my career is to do with fashion rather than social media, although for me right now they go hand in hand allowing me to do what I do. Social media for me is a powerful platform that allows me to create, communicate our ideas and reach potential audience. I have always perceived fashion not only as a means of expression, but also as my armour, and that’s something you could say inspired me to explore the prospects of this industry.

How have your blog and Instagram feed evolved over time, any specific turning points?

My Instagram has definitely changed over time, it is important to keep evolving. The content you create is an amalgamation of all the new things you learn, observe and experience. So, the more you acquire, simultaneously you get inspired to do more, bigger and better. I always enjoy having a scroll down my feed to see how much it has transformed in the past years.

How do you decide which brands to partner with, and how do you ensure that your fans are receptive to sponsored content?

I think it is very important to know your aesthetic, be true to your personal style and not be a sell-out. I always think the main reason someone wants to follow your feed is because they appreciate your overall individuality. Just simply asking yourself would I actually buy this product and wear it off the camera is the first way to approach a collaboration. Clothing that I have shot as a collaboration becomes a part of my wardrobe. So, to keep your personal brand authentic, I suggest working with brands that further reflect your true persona.

This interlays with sponsored content and the people who follow you, if you promote what you genuinely like, they will appreciate it. It is important to establish creative control in the way you endorse a product, but usually not necessary because the reason a collaboration does take place is when both parties appreciate one another. It is usually very prominent when the vibe does not match and I would like to believe the audience can see through it.

Money is a great motivation for a lot of individuals, but if you want longevity in any industry, passion should be seen in your work.

What’s the most overrated part of working in social media/fashion?

I think both the social media and fashion industry is perceived to be an easy frivolous glamorous line of work with minimal labour. I think it is important to comprehend that there is a lot of effort and work put into it for the outcome to look like what it does.

What advice would you give to those interested in building a global following online?

Be patient, focus on what you want to create, how you want to communicate it and be obsessed with it! What you want to put out there, how you put it out there all leads to people gaining interest in what you have to offer. The numbers should not be your main motivation. I also think it is very easy to get into a comparative mindset where you can end up creating what probably worked for someone else, but it is just repetitive to the viewers, so first, it is imperative to find your original voice.

How would you define a Global Nepali?
I think any Nepali individual that strives to establish a positive prominent presence worldwide, be it staying in Nepal or living abroad is what makes a Global Nepali.
Five things you’ll find in the house of every Nepali living abroad
• Pickles and spices (You will always find chilies in my refrigerator)
• Buddha or Ganesh iconography
• Prayer flags (Very popular amongst university students)
• Rice! I can’t live without my weekly intake of rice
• Warm and welcoming hospitality!
One thing you miss the most about home…
My family, they are my foundation, my strength.
How do you stay connected to your roots?
I have never had an identity crisis of any sort. I have always been sure of who I am and who I want to be. I don’t think I have ever felt detached from my roots, but a daily call home and a trip back to Nepal every six months does help keep the connection strong.

Sneha Shrestha
(New York, United States of America)

Sneha Shrestha also known as Imagine is an artist who paints in the Nepali language and blends it with elements of Sanskrit. She has shown her work in many exhibitions, commissioned works and public walls around the world including Boston, San Francisco, Bali, Istanbul, Geneva, and Copenhagen. She has also established Nepal’s First Children’s Art Museum where she provides a creative space for children and youth.

What is the story behind your name—Imagine?

I took my mother’s name, Kalpana (Imagination); as I have been away from home for a long time, signing her name makes me feel that I am close to her. In a lot of ways, I strive to be like her – strong, resilient and determined. When I was growing up in Kathmandu, the culture didn’t encourage children and young people to chase their dreams. But my mum always motivated me to move forward by saying that nothing is impossible until you try. Also, imagination itself is very powerful – it is freedom of the mind.

What inspired you to start Nepal’s First Children’s Art museum?

I established the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal in 2013 to provide a creative space where children and youth can develop their artistic skills. I started the museum when I was in Nepal with the help of a few dedicated volunteers. We worked on building networks with local organisations and schools. Later we got staff and a board of advisors to help us run the museum. Now we have work with over 10,000 Nepali children and our partners include UNICEF, UNHCR, Harvard University and the children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco.

You have been doing graffiti and street art for a while now, how has your work evolved?

I used to paint my graffiti letters in English, and then I tried my hands at wildstyle and block letters in Nepali. Now it has evolved to multilayer mindful mantras in Nepali and Sanskrit.

How do give a Nepali touch to your work?

I combine the principals of American graffiti to write in Nepali and fuse it with calligraphy. I use the aesthetics of Sanskrit scriptures and manuscripts to create my work. Graffiti is based on letters. I was creating pieces in English but never felt like I saw myself in the work. So, I tried writing it in Nepali. Since I learned writing Nepali before English, stylising Nepali letters came more naturally to me. Once I started writing in Nepali, there was no going back.

What is your most important tool as an artist?

As simple as it might sound, I can’t work without a clear mind. I practice mindfulness to be in a positive state of mind.

Some of the work that you are proud of…

• My show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – it was a big moment for me to show my work at the fifth largest museum in the US.

• Painting a 60ft high building on MIT campus

• Being selected to paint for Facebook Artist in Residency Program

• Collaborating with Reebok to create Activewear

What’s ahead?

Oooh so much! (Laughs). I have a solo show at the Boston Children’s Museum in 2020. I have been selected as a Neighborhood Salon Luminary at the Gardner Museum in Boston so I will be collaborating with them. And, I am creating something for Google pretty soon! Stay tuned by following me on Instagram: @imagine876.

What makes a Global Nepali?
A Nepali who sees herself as a global citizen of the world and sees the importance in working hard to have a voice in international conversations.
Five things you’ll find in the house of every Nepali living abroad
Chiyapatti (Tea leaves)
Chaamal (Rice)
Achaar (Pickles)
Chappal (Slippers)
Baithak (A sitting room)
One thing you miss the most about home…
I actually miss a lot of things: My parents, Dashain, Tihar and my five-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Milo.
Have you ever dealt with identity crisis?
I definitely grappled with it a lot in my first few years of being abroad. As a young adult, it can be hard to balance the need to fit in and being who you are without being surrounded by anyone you grew up around. But as I get older, I love who I am becoming; an independent thinker who is uniquely herself. At this point I am an amalgam of two very different cultures; I knew I always thought differently even when I was in school here in Kathmandu. So now I take it upon myself to choose the best parts of each culture and be my true self by knowing my idiosyncrasies and owning them.

Astha Tamang Maskey
Toronto, Canada

Astha moved to Toronto, Canada at the age of 12. Growing up in a musical household, she started playing acoustic guitar at the age of 13. A year later, she started writing and performing songs. Over the years, she has performed in prominent concert venues all around the world such as The Metro (Sydney, Australia), The Coronet Theatre (London, UK), The Hi-Fi (Melbourne, Australia), Café Life and Loud (Sikkim, India), The Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto, Canada), The Opera House (Toronto, Canada), and The Hard Rock Café (Boston, USA). She has also performed at many music festivals such as Fete de la Musique, City Roots Festival, Nepal Music Festival, the Chevrolet Miles Music Festival and the Himalayan Blues Festival.

How have you grown as a musician?

My growth as a musician is directly correlated to my evolution as a person. I think my biggest learning over the years has come from my pursuit of passion and purpose in life while maintaining balance in three keys areas – physical, emotional and spiritual. Music has been an outlet for me and something that’s got me through difficult times in the past, but I think now my creativity is fueled by fulfillment and a healthy state of mind.

Tell us about your very first single Gotta Be Love?

It’s a song that absolutely encompasses my love and passion for pop music. Being an independent artist and also new to Kathmandu’s music scene, I didn’t have a lot of connections. The genre of music I was writing at the time was also new to many ears. I still remember walking into Kantipur FM station and meeting Asish Syangden (a well-known RJ) for the first time. He was open, supportive and absolutely ecstatic while listening to the album. He gave me my very first radio play opportunity for which I will always be grateful.

What has been your most memorable performance?

My favourite performance to this day is an acoustic show I played at the Hard Rock Café, Boston in 2011. Although I love performing with a band, there is something really intimate, vulnerable and magical about going solo on stage with just my acoustic guitar. I am planning on recreating this experience for my fans in Nepal when I re-embark on an unplugged tour in 2020.

What is currently inspiring you?

I think there are some amazing things happening sonically in the music scene and that’s really inspiring me right now. I love records that have strong songwriting and melody lines that evoke emotion while maintaining simplicity. As I am working on my album, I find myself reconnecting with my acoustic roots and I want to make sure that my love for acoustic and organic music is reflected in my songs.

How do you stay connected to your Nepali roots?

Being bilingual and growing up in Canada, I have always resonated with both Nepali and North American cultures. Music has definitely given me the platform to stay connected to my roots. As for my fans, it is via social media. I absolutely love Instagram right now. For fans looking to connect, my Instagram ID is asthamusic.

Is there a specific method you follow while writing your songs?

Not necessarily, it usually just depends on where and how inspiration strikes. My choice of instrument while writing is usually my acoustic guitar and sometimes my keyboard (piano).

What are you currently busy with?

• My third solo Nepali album Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. I am aiming to finish it by 2020 in time for my unplugged tour. I am excited to get going on this!
• An Aama Chori extended play (EP) in collaboration with my mother, Susan Maskey, which would consist of original songs written about the beautiful bond my mother and I share.
• My English EP- Muse- I am wrapping up a few more songs before the EP becomes public by the end of this year.

How would you define a Global Nepali?
It’s staying true to our values that make one a Global Nepali. It doesn’t really matter where we grow up. I think at our core, all Nepali people resonate deeply with values such as humility, pride, love and respect for our elders, a strong sense of patriotism, empathy, integrity, and honesty.
Five things you’ll find in the house of every Nepali living abroad
• Momo steamer
• A Thangka painting
• Incense
• Three key spices: ground coriander, turmeric, and red chilli powder.
• Indoor slippers
One thing you miss the most about home…
The monsoon. I was born during Ashadh (June/July) so I have lots of special memories of the monsoon rains.

Have you ever dealt with identity crisis?
Absolutely! I think we all do at some point in our lives. For me, being a Nepali growing up in North America definitely evoked a lot of questions about self-identity. But I have grown to realise that self-discovery is a process that continuously evolves and changes as we experience life, and I have been so lucky to have been exposed to so many different cultures and experiences. The best we can do as people is to keep growing and striving to be the best versions of ourselves.

Arpana Rayamajhi
Jewellery Designer
(New York, United States of America)

Arpana, a 30-year-old New York-based jewellery designer takes pride in her individuality. The self-made jeweller and model has many notable achievements. She has been featured in the L’Oreal Paris advertisment campaign which was aired during the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards in 2017. Her jewellery was commissioned in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Paris in 2016 and the same year she was acknowledged in the New York Times 30 under 30 series. Further, she has appeared in one of the most leading global fashion magazines, Vogue. She is also the Co-founder of DISPOSE, an online magazine collection of disposable photographs that narrate the day of an individual.

What is it like being a jewellery designer?

It taught me patience. It has given me wider opportunity to grow, not only as an artist but also as a person. Also, my favourite part about being a designer is that I get to make things I would like to wear and own one of kind pieces.

Is there any piece of jewellery you never miss wearing?

Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings are all important to me and as of now need to be worn together. Not wearing jewellery makes me feel truly naked or something is really missing.

Does your design reflect the Nepali culture?

I am not always conscious or try not to make my work a representation of Nepal because I don’t think one person can represent a larger group of people who all live very different and complex lives. Our jewels and traditional wears do inspire me back home but my work is really a reflection of who I am. I guess because I grew up in a time where globalisation had already started, I feel like my work reflects my own journey and my taste. I wear a lot of Nepali jewellery and clothes and I feel like that is a more accurate reflection of Nepal in me, rather than my work.

Earlier you were pursuing a career as a professional singer, what diverted you from that path?

I was too nervous, uncertain and felt disconnected to myself while I was doing music. I also really wanted to grow by studying and learning everything that I could. I still love music, and in many ways, my ultimate dream is to be in a rock band (laughs). I think learning more than one form has helped me grow. Now I am studying acting so I can finally start drawing talents from all my other pursuits.

You have been on the pages of Vogue and part of Victoria’s Secret show, what did that feel like?

Incredible! Pretty much all of this is much unexpected especially that I am making jewellery. The experience has helped me grow professionally, meet some amazing people in the industry and work with them. Most importantly it has introduced me to the world and gave an opportunity to say ‘hey, I do all these things!’ Overall, very humbling and makes me want to keep working harder. The journey isn’t always good or pleasant. I don’t want to paint a false picture that ‘Wow I am living THE life!’ because I am not. New York is tough and entertainment and the arts, even more so.

What makes a Global Nepali?
Lots of dal bhat even while living somewhere else.
Five things you’ll find in the house of every Nepali living abroad
• A Nepali flag of some capacity for sure
• Momo steamer
• Achaar
• Some Dashain celebration stuff
• Wai Wai
One thing you miss the most about home…
The beautiful dusty streets of Kathmandu…Kidding! A lot of things on a normal day – the street dogs, the cows, the food and on some days, I miss almost everything. Especially waking up at home, seeing my family and my dogs, and going to Durbar Square and seeing my friends and the women and men who sell lemons, kafal (box berry) or peanuts on the street side. It is funny to say that now because I often overlooked all these things when I was living there, and strangely now I miss that a lot.