By B.C. Thimmaiah
Nepal’s first transgender model will make a special appearance at the Season-5 of the Mysore Fashion Week this evening at The Windflower Resorts and Spa. The three-day show has been organised by city-based fashion designer Jayanthi Ballal.
Anjali Lama was the first from the ‘other’ category to walk at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai last year. Insulted at school and college and fired from jobs for being a ‘feminine man’, Anjali was turned away at most of the fashion auditions for being a ‘manly woman.’ But her 32-year-long struggle has now paid off and she is at an enviable place where most models aspire to be.
Anjali has a strong stage presence and striking features. One does not fail to notice her sharp cheekbones, resembling famous fashion models. She carries herself graciously with trendy dresses and has already caused ripples in the fashion world. After years of struggling with sexual standards imposed by society, Anjali no longer shies away from revealing her identity. Rather she is vocal about it.
In an exclusive chat with Star of Mysore at the sprawling and illuminated lawns of Windflower last evening where she was preparing to set the ramp on fire, Anjali makes no bones about being a transgender and tells that her ability to work really hard is her greatest strength.
Born as a boy, Nabin Waiba, to a farming family and growing up in the rural district of Nuwakot in Nepal, Anjali was often severely bullied for having feminine tendencies. She spent majority years in life fighting prejudice and discrimination. Apart from being bullied at school, at home she went through the trauma of being pressured to conform to gender stereotypes by her family and loved ones.
Anjali was one of seven children born to her parents and she says she enjoyed wearing women’s clothing and her friends at school were mostly girls. She recounts: “At school, I used to be mocked for my girlish tendencies and wherever I went, people used to say, ‘Look, he is a girl.’ As if that trauma during my growing up was not enough, at home my father would scold me asking what would I do with my life?”
“Rebukes and insults I faced at my school also brought self-doubt and confusion. It was during my college years that I took a decision — To live the identity that I held close to my heart,” she says.
Struggles in Kathmandu
At the age of 18, Lama “came out” from her farming world and moved to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city. Being a city, Kathmandu didn’t help and she had to continue her struggle with gender identity. She came there to study but had to work at a hotel to support her education. “I was fired because of my feminine behaviour. Hotel owners said that I made the customers uncomfortable,” she says.
While working in the hotel, Anjali saw a TV programme on Nepal’s transgender community. She then contacted ‘Blue Diamond Society’ that worked for sexual minorities. “I realised I’m not the only one, this is my society,” she says.
“And there was no looking back and I wanted to live my life of true identity. I broke the shackles and came out of years of torturous experience. Here too, when my family found out that I have chosen to become a girl, they said that I was dead to them. Only my mother kept contact and she gave me the strength to stand by my decision,” Anjali reveals.
“My mother Seljom was very close to me and she is my inspiration. Whenever I was in a crisis I would remember what my mother told me about not giving up, and moving forward. I knew someone, somewhere will give me an opportunity,” she sighs.
Attached to mother
“The world was not the same for me after my mother’s death and it hit me hard, close to breaking me and my self-confidence. But I never gave up. I went to see my mother’s dead body and someone told me to dress as a boy. I refused as it was not my identity. I went in a girl’s dress and there were more people looking at me rather than my mom who was lying in state,” she recalls.
“I went near my mother’s body sobbing but my brother rained blows on my back and said that because of me the family had to face a lot of shame. Even to this day, I cry, thinking of my mother and the incidents at the time of her death,” Anjali says, desperately trying to hide her emotions.
Foray into fashion
Her first foray into fashion was inspired by the very community of friends she established once she embraced her transgender identity. They encouraged her to consider a career in modelling and overcome identity issues.
Anjali’s decision to fully embrace her gender identity began to pay off when she landed the cover of ‘Voice of Women’ in Kathmandu in 2009. “My friends told me I was not meant to be stuck in Nepal, and that I should try to become an international supermodel.” For over 10 years she struggled in Kathmandu and could not get a chance at Nepal Fashion Week.
“Nepal Fashion Week crushed my modelling dreams by rejecting me for three consecutive years. It was my dream to walk there. Because of my gender I wasn’t picked,” she explains.
“I would directly ask the judges, ‘Why didn’t I get selected?’ The organisers would tell me: ‘They know you’re a transgender, so they don’t want you as a model.’ I felt very sad, it was disheartening. But I kept on trying,” she says.
Later she took her friends’ advice, and first auditioned for Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai. She was rejected twice. She did not lose hope. “But I remember feeling quite helpless and even considered giving up on fashion,” she says. “But I decided to try for the third time in 2017 and this time I did my research. I watched videos of models walking the ramp, changed my make-up and wardrobe. I practiced posing in front of the mirror so I would be able to present myself; the judges were impressed and I made it to the Lakme Fashion Week and here I am being interviewed,” she laughs — a radiant smile that.
Well-versed in English and Hindi, Anjali is tall and has a gracious poise. If anything, it’s only the voice that could give her away. She never hides her identity. “I never lie,” she signs off.
On scrapping of Section 377
On the Supreme Court of India striking down the draconian Article 377 that penalised gay sex and lesbianism, Anjali said, “Transgenders are treated fairly unfairly everywhere — be it accommodation or jobs, nothing comes easy for us. I salute the Supreme Court as after the judgement, we have renewed confidence. I was in Mumbai trying to establish myself. I had limited money and people would not give their houses on rent to Transgenders. Now it is a big relief.”