#LifeEh: A Tale of Two Gay Men

  • Post category:Social Justice
  • Reading time:6 min(s) read
Alok Nembang takes his own life
Screenshot of Seto Pati article reproduced in the Nepali Times about Alok Nembang’s suicide.

 

Another #LifeEh observation but that of others, not mine.

This is about two gay school mates: Prabal Gurung (no relation to me; I am not even a Gurung anyway) and Alok Nembang. On the outset, I want to stress that this post is NOT in any way meant as an insult to or as a judgement of or to cast aspersions on either of their life choices or life decisions or their beings.

Gurung is the world-known, NYC-based fashion designer. He was a junior at St. Xavier’s School in Kathmandu in the mid-eighties. I am NOT sure we overlapped in secondary school though. (He may have been a sixth grader when I was in 11th grade! I do remember his older brother though.)

But firstly, how many “born” into his profession in Nepal — tailors and cobblers, Dalits, untouchables — get anywhere near as far as he has gotten in life? How many amass anywhere near as much wealth as he has? How many tailors and/or shoemakers are accorded the level of respect in Nepal that he is? (Gurung, is NOT a Dalit.) Forget worldwide fame, wealth, and such respect, Dalits’ lives are valued much less than those of others in the country. (Just recently a number of Dalit young men were murdered by a mob in Rukum.)

How much of what he has achieved in the US would he have achieved had he tried his luck as a fashion designer in Nepal? Safe to say probably just a fraction!

Secondly, how many gays in Nepal are respected by Nepalis as much as he is? (To state the obvious: that is NOT to imply that gays — or anyone of a sexual orientation different from mine — SHOULDN’T be respected.)

Apart from the severely limited opportunities and potential in Nepal holding him back, his sexual orientation would have worked heavily against him. I understand that, by his own account, even as a young student he displayed many effeminate characteristics etc. and was teased and bullied by his school mates.

I can believe that. The demeaning and derogatory label in Nepali for a boy or man displaying physical traits and/or mannerisms of a female is “Chhakka,” the English equivalent of sissy. Nembang was a classmate of mine who was called that and bullied.

Something a number of us classmates — including yours truly — was surprised by was the discovery that Nembang appeared to have embraced his feminine side. We came across a number of photos of his with make-up, hair-do, and clothes etc. looking very much like a girl. Of course, the teenaged boys that we all were, we snickered and laughed pointing at the photos. They had been on display on the walls of the most popular photo studio in the city: Photo Concern on New Road. However, unless you knew Nembang personally, you wouldn’t have known that the “she” in the photos was actually a he.

When I took off for Italy for my last two years of high school, followed that up with undergraduate studies in the US, and then started on an international teaching career, I had no idea what had become of him and where he had gotten to in life. As a matter of fact, those photos of him in the photo studio has been the last I had seen of anything to do with his person.

I don’t recall interacting or engaging with him much during the two or three years we were classmates. After all, as students, we moved in completely different circles. While I was abroad, I had no reason to hear from him nor about him from those I was in contact with either, and I didn’t. 

Sadly, when I did finally did learn about him, some time after my return to Nepal in May 2013, it was through the news that he had killed himself! I also learned then that Nembang, similar to Gurung, had been very creative, talented, and gay.

Not unlike Gurung and myself though, he had continued his further studies in the US. But, unlike the two of us, not long after completing them, he had chosen to return to Nepal.

Back home, a very talented music-video and film director, he had been fairly successful in the movie industry. An gay man, the closed and inward-looking Nepali people and society did not accept his sexual orientation and made him suffer. I just can’t imagine the tortuous life he must have had to lead in the country. Forget about accepting his sexuality — and focusing on, and respecting him for his creative work — he was likely tormented for it. I suspect avenues and outlets to live his life to the fullest possible were also severely limited.

While outwardly very polite, accommodating, and considerate, closed Nepalis are — among many other things — intolerant of people with sexuality and life-style different from the mainstream. This embarrasses me just as some other aspects of Nepali people, society, and culture. (Another aspect of Nepal that embarrasses me — and enrages me at times — is the way we treat our women and children.)

I had come a long way from the teenaged boy who had laughed and snickered at Nembang’s photos in the studio. During my almost 25 years abroad, I had had life experiences that I wouldn’t have had had I never left Nepal, experiences most Nepalis don’t have.

One of them had been befriending and working with gays, among others. After all those years, finally, to me he would have been like any other friend and colleague because I have learned to not distinguish people based on their sexual orientation. But, it looked like he hadn’t been successful at finding sufficient fellow Nepalis who accepted him for who he was.

Unable to deal with the issues he faced in the conservative Nepali society and lacking in the necessary social and emotional support to maintain such a life style, he appears to have chosen to end his life instead. 🙁 🙁 

There it is…a tale of two gay men from my old school and their divergent fates!

Life eh!!

((If you are interested in other #LifeEh observations, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

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