Diasporic nationhood beyond borders: Kiran Gajmer’s VoN journey and its lessons

Dr. Tika Lamsal

Kiran Gajmer’s recent appearance and robust performance on Voice of Nepal (VoN) has made him as a historical winner of the Season Three title. Hailing from Nepali-speaking Bhutanese American community, his victory has aroused among Nepali-speaking diaspora around the world a warm spirit of belonging to Nepali music and culture full of pride.

Kiran has repeatedly touched the hearts of all Nepali-speaking diaspora across the globe as well as Nepalis living in Nepal by openly expressing his eternal love for Nepal, tireless dedication to Nepali music and culture, and life-long commitment to serve Nepali language, culture, and music.

As he mentioned during his title acceptance and on other media platforms, more specifically during his special appearance in Indreni, a TV show in Nepal, the trophy of VoN he has raised will forever remain as an equivalent to Nepali citizenship that he could never attain due to his status as a Bhutanese refugee. As such, when Kiran stood at the platform of VoN, he didn’t only represent Nepali-speaking Bhutanese communities in the world, but also all the Nepalis living inside and outside Nepal. His overwhelming support both within and outside Nepal indicates his popularity among all the Nepali-speaking communities in the world, regardless of their countries of origin. Moreover, Kiran’s humble background and empathetic demeanor have always stood him as a compassionate social personality that will become a source of inspiration for the new generation to come.

Nepali music and culture become deeply embedded in the cultural memory of Nepali diaspora around the globe in such a way that representation of identity, despite its elusive nature, itself is qualified by the participants’ attachment to their music, culture, and language.

Of particular meaning here remains Kiran’s candid reflection on his belonging to Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugee community with a deep attachment to Nepal, and his representation has offered a response to those that consider Nepali nationhood as belonging merely to those that stay within the geographical borders of Nepal.

Moreover, such reflective personal narratives of the people in diaspora, as demonstrated by Bakirathi Mani in Aspiring to Home, generate “a singular construct of ethnic belonging, one that surpasses differences among immigrants of various class and national backgrounds.” By the same token, not only in his select nomenclature as “Nepali Babu” within the parlance of VoN but also through his choice of songs and music that deeply reverberated the strings of Nepaliness during his performances did Kiran manifest his immense love and deep attachment to Nepali language, culture, and music.

In the diaspora abroad, when Nepali-speaking community’s morning sun rises with Nepali bhajans as well as political news and their dusk follows Nepali tele serials, their cultural memory remains deeply rooted in everyday practices that are inherently shaped by their collective imaginary of belonging to almost every cultural, social, and religious artifact related to Nepal.

Notwithstanding their occasional oblivion due to their heavy engagement in the chores of their new country, almost all Nepali-speaking diaspora spend most of their time musing over what Nepal creates and offers as novel musical and cultural artifacts in its everyday production, which directly cater to the notion of memory and nationhood for the people living abroad. In the meantime, performance and consumption of Nepali art or music come to stand as typical Nepali experiences, further generating homogeneous notions of belonging, despite the diverse national, class, and cultural backgrounds of the organizers, performers, and audiences. Such narratives of belonging thus become instrumental in identifying all Nepali-speaking diaspora collectively as Nepalis.

What marks as unique cultural specialty of Nepali-speaking diaspora in the U.S. is not the way discrete threads of identity are represented by multiple Nepali ethnic communities from South Asian continent but the way collective investment is made to produce a community and a sense of belonging. While the last one remained just a mirage for people from Bhutanese origin due to their status as stateless subjects for a long time, making cultural investment to uplift Nepali music and language with a spirit of collective nationhood helps all of Nepali-speaking diaspora in the U.S. create an upward mobility narrative that becomes tantamount to creating a collective identity story through the promotion of Nepali culture, language, and music.

It is with such kind of commitment as demonstrated by Kiran and all the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese people scattered around the world today that we need to seriously mull over opening a broader discourse to create a common platform for all Nepali-speaking communities across the globe, irrespective of their countries of origin.

Kiran Gajmer’s rise through the platform of VoN offers us a strong case in point to evoke among all Nepali-speaking diaspora across the globe a shared feeling of belonging in that participation in cultural, language, and musical practices helps us create a visible history that becomes instrumental in identifying ourselves as collective Nepali diaspora, irrespective of our fractured identity of nationhood labeled based on the countries of our origin.

Jogen Gazmere, a human rights activist and a community leader based in Australia has rightly noted in his recent status on Facebook that Kiran’s rise from a stateless Bhutanese refugee child to an American citizen, now to a winner of VoN title, will remain inspiring and captivating to all the Nepali-speaking diaspora around the world for a long time in the future.

Dr. Tika Lamsal is an associate professor of Rhetoric and Language at the University of San Francisco (USF) and teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses on Cross-cultural Business Communication, and English Rhetoric and Writing.