20 March, 2008

Breaking Trail

ECS NEPAL | The Nepali Way, March 2008
Text by : Sushma Joshi

The room in the Summit Hotel where Arlene Blum waited to talk was full of expatriates, not unusual for a Cultural Studies Group talk—but on the side, sitting on the edge with nervousness and excitement, was a group of very young Nepaliwomen. After her talk, I went up to them and discovered that they were an all female team about to attempt Mt Everest. The glow they had in their eyes reflected the boost of energy we had received from an inspirational woman.

“Look at this slope. Isn’t this an easy one? Wouldn’t you just love to be up there?” she asks the audience, pointing to a slide with a gentle slope. And yes, after listening to Arlene, we can almost imagine ourselves halfway up a high altitude mountain slope. Tall and grey-haired, Arlene is distinguished and yet still full of childlike enthusiasm for her two passions—mountaineering and chemistry.

A chemist who got her PhD during the Seventies, when the academic establishment was still hostile to the idea of women entering scientific fields, Arlene managed, on the side, to lead the first all women’s team to Denali, North America’s tallest summit. She was also the first to lead an all female team to the summit of Annapurna, and the first American woman to attempt Everest. What takes a young girl from a sheltered Jewish family in Chicago and launches her full force out into the adventurous and dangerous world of mountain climbing? For Arlene, it seemed to have been a combination of love for a man and the discrimination she faced as a woman.

In her book, Breaking Trail, Arlene describes John Hall, an early mountain climbing companion who took her on his climbs and for whom she had a deep attachment. John is so handsome Arlene is sweating by the time she gets out in the parking lot on her first trip. Her first attempt at climbing, which she describes with a great deal of humor and grisly detail (the back of her pants is rubbed off from sliding down sand and gravel; and she has to take an inflatable toilet seat to sit on during class) only convinces her that she loves climbing. John eventually dies, buried in an avalanche, just as he is about to join Arlene on an ‘Endless Winter’ expedition. Arlene describes the moment in which she thinks he has come back and is sitting in her porch. She searches for him, and is told that he’s not yet arrived. A few days later, she reads the newspaper and finds out he was buried under an avalanche—on the same day that she thought she saw him sitting on her porch.

Her book resonates with examples in which she faced discrimination as a woman in the male dominated worlds of chemistry and mountain climbing. She is told time and again that women cannot climb. In one instance, a male climber won’t shake her hand because she’s a woman. Men are afraid that women will have their periods and start getting hormonal and emotional on the high slopes. Her awareness of discrimination is acute, and at times overwhelms the reader. The title ‘Breaking Trail’ comes from her own self-analysis about whether she held her own in the high mountains. Had she just piggybacked off the male members of her expeditions, or had she held her own weight? Through self-reflection, she concludes that her contribution to her teams came through her ability to break new trail. When team members are reluctant to try a new path, they send Arlene ahead. Although not the strongest of the team, she is always willing to forge ahead into new territory.

Just as she struggles to fit in as a woman in male-dominated environments, Arlene also struggles to fit in as a modern young American amongst a traditional Jewish family. Her mother has made a mistake and married the wrong man. Arlene never quite learns who her father is, or what he did wrong. Her happiest moments, then, are escaping ostracization by her family and walking around in the Chicago snow by herself—a childhood habit which served her well in the cold and lonely mountain slopes in adulthood.

In MIT, she describes the blatant intolerance of her professors when she joins the Chemistry Department. Unable to stand the East Coast, Arlene transfers to Stanford where she eventually gets her PhD. In the heady anti-war, feminist and civil rights movements of the West Coast, she conducts research free of the constraints she faced in MIT. She analyzes a fabric from which children’s clothing is made—the substance in the clothing, it turns out, causes cancer. She writes an article in Science magazine and gets that chemical banned. Many years later, she finds out that the same substance, under a different name, is being marketed as a fire retardant for upholstery. The chemical industry has made it mandatory for the chemical to be applied to all furniture on the West Coast.

That Californian love of the environment, and the harmful effects of chemicals, is palpable as Arlene Blum diverts from her talk about mountains and plunges into a dense but fascinating talk about chemicals and how they can affect people’s health. The activist in her emerges as she informs us that the chemical industry is now trying to make the same harmful fire retardant a mandatory application on computer printers—an unnecessary application.

And no, this woman is not just a theoretical scientist—it is apparent that she will be out there, breaking trail, making sure that this harmful chemical do not get coated onto household items and passed into our homes. What impressed me about Arlene Blum was not just her clear-eyed vision of the mountains, which she obviously loved, but also her activism for a cleaner, more accountable world. Her activism, like her mountaineering, has broken new ground in encouraging policies that improve people’s lives.

This is one woman who circled the world and saw some of the most spectacular scenes from the world’s tallest mountains and glaciers. Like other mountaineers, she’s a witness to the massive melting of glaciers that has happened in the last few decades with the exponential warming of the planet.

Never doubt that a few committed citizens can change the world, said some wise philosopher. Looking at Arlene Blum, it was clear that we were in the presence of greatness—and yet she spoke with the childlike lilt and cadence of a child. In a talk I heard in New York, I noticed a similar note in Arundhati Roy’s voice. Perhaps extraordinary women with extraordinary power must always disguise themselves in order to speak truth to power. Along with her voice, Arlene appeared to have a child’s clear-eyed sense of injustice, possibility and hope. There is no doubt that if anybody can reverse and change the destruction occurring in this planet, it will be by extraordinary individuals from ordinary backgrounds, not unlike Arlene Blum. Sushma Joshi is a writer and filmmaker. She can be contacted at sushma@alumni.brown.edu. For more about Arlene Blum, see www.arleneblum.com.

13 March, 2008

Breaking Trail


ECS NEPAL | The Nepali Way

March 2008
Text by : Sushma Joshi
The room in the Summit Hotel where Arlene Blum waited to talk was full of expatriates, not unusual for a Cultural Studies Group talk—but on the side, sitting on the edge with nervousness and excitement, was a group of very young Nepaliwomen. After her talk, I went up to them and discovered that they were an all female team about to attempt Mt Everest. The glow they had in their eyes reflected the boost of energy we had received from an inspirational woman.

“Look at this slope. Isn’t this an easy one? Wouldn’t you just love to be up there?” she asks the audience, pointing to a slide with a gentle slope. And yes, after listening to Arlene, we can almost imagine ourselves halfway up a high altitude mountain slope. Tall and grey-haired, Arlene is distinguished and yet still full of childlike enthusiasm for her two passions—mountaineering and chemistry.

A chemist who got her PhD during the Seventies, when the academic establishment was still hostile to the idea of women entering scientific fields, Arlene managed, on the side, to lead the first all women’s team to Denali, North America’s tallest summit. She was also the first to lead an all female team to the summit of Annapurna, and the first American woman to attempt Everest. What takes a young girl from a sheltered Jewish family in Chicago and launches her full force out into the adventurous and dangerous world of mountain climbing?

For Arlene, it seemed to have been a combination of love for a man and the discrimination she faced as a woman. In her book, Breaking Trail, Arlene describes John Hall, an early mountain climbing companion who took her on his climbs and for whom she had a deep attachment. John is so handsome Arlene is sweating by the time she gets out in the parking lot on her first trip. Her first attempt at climbing, which she describes with a great deal of humor and grisly detail (the back of her pants is rubbed off from sliding down sand and gravel; and she has to take an inflatable toilet seat to sit on during class) only convinces her that she loves climbing. John eventually dies, buried in an avalanche, just as he is about to join Arlene on an ‘Endless Winter’ expedition. Arlene describes the moment in which she thinks he has come back and is sitting in her porch. She searches for him, and is told that he’s not yet arrived. A few days later, she reads the newspaper and finds out he was buried under an avalanche—on the same day that she thought she saw him sitting on her porch.

Her book resonates with examples in which she faced discrimination as a woman in the male dominated worlds of chemistry and mountain climbing. She is told time and again that women cannot climb. In one instance, a male climber won’t shake her hand because she’s a woman. Men are afraid that women will have their periods and start getting hormonal and emotional on the high slopes. Her awareness of discrimination is acute, and at times overwhelms the reader. The title ‘Breaking Trail’ comes from her own self-analysis about whether she held her own in the high mountains. Had she just piggybacked off the male members of her expeditions, or had she held her own weight? Through self-reflection, she concludes that her contribution to her teams came through her ability to break new trail. When team members are reluctant to try a new path, they send Arlene ahead. Although not the strongest of the team, she is always willing to forge ahead into new territory.

Just as she struggles to fit in as a woman in male-dominated environments, Arlene also struggles to fit in as a modern young American amongst a traditional Jewish family. Her mother has made a mistake and married the wrong man. Arlene never quite learns who her father is, or what he did wrong. Her happiest moments, then, are escaping ostracization by her family and walking around in the Chicago snow by herself—a childhood habit which served her well in the cold and lonely mountain slopes in adulthood.

In MIT, she describes the blatant intolerance of her professors when she joins the Chemistry Department. Unable to stand the East Coast, Arlene transfers to Stanford where she eventually gets her PhD. In the heady anti-war, feminist and civil rights movements of the West Coast, she conducts research free of the constraints she faced in MIT. She analyzes a fabric from which children’s clothing is made—the substance in the clothing, it turns out, causes cancer. She writes an article in Science magazine and gets that chemical banned. Many years later, she finds out that the same substance, under a different name, is being marketed as a fire retardant for upholstery.

The chemical industry has made it mandatory for the chemical to be applied to all furniture on the West Coast. That Californian love of the environment, and the harmful effects of chemicals, is palpable as Arlene Blum diverts from her talk about mountains and plunges into a dense but fascinating talk about chemicals and how they can affect people’s health. The activist in her emerges as she informs us that the chemical industry is now trying to make the same harmful fire retardant a mandatory application on computer printers—an unnecessary application. And no, this woman is not just a theoretical scientist—it is apparent that she will be out there, breaking trail, making sure that this harmful chemical do not get coated onto household items and passed into our homes.

What impressed me about Arlene Blum was not just her clear-eyed vision of the mountains, which she obviously loved, but also her activism for a cleaner, more accountable world. Her activism, like her mountaineering, has broken new ground in encouraging policies that improve people’s lives. This is one woman who circled the world and saw some of the most spectacular scenes from the world’s tallest mountains and glaciers. Like other mountaineers, she’s a witness to the massive melting of glaciers that has happened in the last few decades with the exponential warming of the planet.

Never doubt that a few committed citizens can change the world, said some wise philosopher. Looking at Arlene Blum, it was clear that we were in the presence of greatness—and yet she spoke with the childlike lilt and cadence of a child. In a talk I heard in New York, I noticed a similar note in Arundhati Roy’s voice. Perhaps extraordinary women with extraordinary power must always disguise themselves in order to speak truth to power. Along with her voice, Arlene appeared to have a child’s clear-eyed sense of injustice, possibility and hope. There is no doubt that if anybody can reverse and change the destruction occurring in this planet, it will be by extraordinary individuals from ordinary backgrounds, not unlike Arlene Blum. Sushma Joshi is a writer and filmmaker. She can be contacted at sushma@alumni.brown.edu. For more about Arlene Blum, see www.arleneblum.com.

09 March, 2008

The Translator of Joy

By Sushma Joshi
ECS Magazine, March 2008

Adoption brings joy. “Some people get families, others get love,” says Mukta Shrestha. “I’ve always wished the best for each family.” Mukta, who started to translate for Spanish families 15 years ago, should know. She’s helped to facilitate more than 100 adoptions in the last 15 years. During this time, she’s seen hundreds of children pass through to comfortable homes with loving parents. She’s dealt with malnourished children, medical emergencies, and psychological counseling. She’s gotten calls from families in the middle of the night, asking why their newly adopted child is behaving in a certain way, or what they want. For Mukta is more than a translator—she has been a facilitator, mentor, counselor, and a good friend to many Spanish families who have chosen to adopt Nepali children.

Unlike the horror stories I hear from friends in Canada and the USA, who wait tensely for their adopted children to be released, and who pay up to $10,000 to lawyers and adoption homes, Spanish families report a different experience. “No, we did not have to pay money,” says Victoria Veiga Vila of Madrid earnestly, who is back to adopt a second child, a girl. “There were no problems with the Ministry. They were very honest and correct.”

“We are very happy that everybody in Nepal helped us,” adds Javier Ruis, her husband.
“No, I did not pay money,” says Nuria Mora, in Nepal to adopt her first child, a son. “Mukta helped with the process. She is a very good link for adoption.”

Spanish families have one of the highest rates of adoptions from Nepal. All three families I met said they chose to adopt from Nepal because they knew a friend who had done the same. Partly, its the positive experiences Spanish parents have with Nepali children, who are quick to adapt, learn, and socialize. Unlike children from Eastern Europe, Nepali children adapt quickly to the tightknit social world of Spain, are better behaved than Spanish children, and show easy acceptance of religious life. Partly, the high rates can be explained by less rigid laws—single women, for instance, cannot adopt from China, but they can from Nepal. And partly, it’s the way the close-knit Spanish community has been able to tap into the experience of an ethical facilitator like Mukta.

Mukta’s connection to Spain stems from a class she took in the Spanish language from the Campus of International Languages 15 years ago, which led to her work as a translator for Spanish tourists. Inevitably, the work led to families seeking to adopt. Before long, she found herself visiting the Ministry of Women and Children, visiting orphanages, and coordinating with Lluis Belvis, the Spanish honorary counsel in Barcelona, to facilitate adoption paperwork for different families.

Mukta has a personal connection to Spain—her son Abhi, who went to Madrid to study computer science, is married to a Spanish woman. Her linkage to Spain is more than work related—it is familial. In her photo albums, I see photographs of large groups of people waiting at airports in different Spanish cities. They carry banners that say: “Welcome Mukta!”

This enthusiasm is not hard to understand. Mukta is forthright—she talks about the racism and the discrimination that children face in Spanish community and schools without hedging. She addresses difficulties parents face with new adoptees with candid openness. She points out inadvertent mistakes parents make with ease and humor. And she is always open about how bureaucracy runs in Nepal. It is easy to see why friendships that arose out of professional relationships were forged.

“On their first day, children go to the hotel and change completely. They laugh, they run, they feel so free. They eat a lot of food because they don’t know if it is only temporary. They put the food in their pockets. Then they realize that its going to be like this every day—then they stop eating,” she says.

Initially, children feel frustrated with their new parents for not being able to understand their language. Sharmila, a five year old Gandharva child who Javier Ruis and Victoria Vila are adopting, gives me a big smile and runs a small helicopter on my arm. “Sharmila’s shoes were too small and hurt her feet. I asked her why she wore them. She told me: they don’t understand me when I tell them, so what’s the point!” Mukta laughs.But Spanish culture, Mukta says, is very similar to Nepali cultures. And children adapt fast.

Rufino Garcia and Nuria Fernandez
For Rufino Garcia and Nuria Fernandez, their joy at adopting Bina (which sounds like bin aqui or come here in Catalan, and therefore changed to Duna) is tinged with the sadness that all parents face when they learn that their child has a disability. Duna, who was two weeks old when left at the Helpless Children Protection Home in Ranibari orphanage, was malnourished and tiny. Like other adoptions, Duna was picked out of a list of names based on the request of the parents.

At six, Duna is a vibrant, joyful child. She says individual words but cannot speak in sentences. After all that could be done with allopathic medicine in Spain, Duna still couldn’t speak. With the hope that springs eternal in all parents’, the couple decided to bring her back to Nepal and take her to Suryabinayak temple, where parents take children with speech development issues. When the Gurbacharya priest threw some coconut water at her face, she was startled. Her parents now claim she is doing much better.

Rufino and Nuria deal with Duna’s sudden outbursts with infinite patience and kindness. Duna wants to go out, but she is told to stay in. She has a loud fit, accompanied by uncontrolled physical movement. Nuria envelops her in a hug and sings to her softly till she calms down. “Hi, hi, hi,” says Duna, calming down.“Muy bien, muy bien,” Nuria says, as Duna writes the names of her family members in perfect, neat letters: Aran, Duna, Tata, Yaya.

Aran is Duna’s brother, and Rufino and Nuria’s biological child. He’s fourteen. Rufino worries about what mischief his teenage son might be up to back in Spain. “My house has become a hotel,” he says wryly, talking about the friends his son brings over every day. In the camera, Duna catches sight of her brother and kisses the camera screen. “Tete, Tete,” she repeats her nickname for her adored brother. “Tete,” she says, as if he’s in the room.

“We passed through a phase where we thought about it a lot. We did not know why she was like that,” Nuria says. And yes, they do worry about what will happen to her in the future, but not as intensely as they used to do before. “She will always have parents, and a loving home. We would like her to live a life of autonomy. We are taking it day by day.” Duna has a special teacher in school who sits with her and teaches her individually.

Nuria and Rufino came to Nepal knowing that the culture would be different, and that they would have to work in a different manner. Having Mukta to facilitate the process helped a great deal. “We always went with our representative to the Ministry,” says Rufino. “Nobody asked us for money.” His wife adds: “We wanted to adopt from here because everything was transparent here—everything is done directly through the Spanish consulate.” Talking about Mukta, the parents says: “We couldn’t have done it alone. Mukta gave us emotional help. She has—muchas patiencas.”

“The first necessity of the child is to live with the family. The warmth of the family is necessary above culture, religion and tradition,” Rufino says.

So is this adoption a success? “We are lucky to have her—she needed us and we needed her,” answers Nuria, smiling. Watching these two loving parents with Duna, I know she is right.

Javier Ollala Rius and Victoria Veiga Vila
Javier and Victoria have an adopted cousin from India, which made them think South Asia was the continent from where they wanted a child. Javier suggested Eastern Europe—the racism in Spain, he felt, would have made it difficult for an Asian child. But then six years ago, they contacted Mr Belvis, the honorary counsel of Nepal in Barcelona, for a trek. After 10 days, they were in love with Nepal—it adopted them as they adopted it.

Since then, the couple have been back in Nepal each year. They adopted Homjung, their son, three years later. This year, they’re back to adopt Sharmila, their second child.

“It was marvelous,” says Javier, talking about his first encounter with Nepal.

“I think its important to know the country before adopting,” adds Victoria. “There’s a connection to the country then.

”On this trip, Javier and Victoria have visited their son’s orphanage every single day. The parents don’t know Homjung’s ethnicity—at one Tibetan village, they were told “Homjung” meant “we are warriors”. Homjung loves to play with children in his old orphanage. He never felt disconnected—a large collage of photographs in his bedroom reminds him of his old friends every morning when he wakes up.

Sharmila, their new daughter, is of Gandharva origins. She breaks into a radiant smile once in a while, transforming the worry that hangs over her. In the garden of Yak and Yeti, she plays with Homjung as if she’s always known him. “They’re like biological siblings,” Victoria comments. “As soon as they met, they were great friends. Homjung is very protective of her.”

Javier, who works as a glassworker, and Victoria, trained as a cytologist but not presently employed, were advised by their doctor not to have biological children for medical reasons. Adoption worked so well for them they’ve come back for a second child. “We were very clear we wanted more than one,” says Victoria. “The children need companions.”

“There were no problems with the Ministry,” Javier says. “They were very honest and correct.” As Sharmila runs after her new brother Homjung in the garden, it is clear that this is one family that benefited both ways from the smooth adoption process.

Nuria Mora
Nuria Mora, 45 years old, works as a secretary in a bank in Barcelona. Dipesh, her son, says “Ola!” with a big smile. Dipesh is five or six according to his papers, but looks almost ten. He wears a yellow T-shirt and a happy smile. As Nuria tells him: “No, Dipesh, no!” and wipes the water from his face, I mistake the two for a family that’s known each other a lifetime, not just a few weeks.

Nuria talks in Spanish, Dipesh answers in Nepali. “I’m a first time mother,” says Nuria. “Everyday is
difficult. I don’t have the maternal experience.” But she hastens to add: “But I’m very happy. This experience of the heart is very important for life.” As she hugs her son, and he cuddles up shyly, it’s clear that this relationship will override any initial mothering anxieties.

Nuria came to Nepal when she heard another single friend of hers had also been able to adopt without difficulty. Nuria comes from a large family with nephews and nieces who will provide instant companionship for her new child.

For Mukta Shrestha, being in the middle of children and parents is both exhilarating and wearying. Adoption is not always a happily-ever-after story. There are issues as children grow older, become teenagers and cause problems. Mukta knows that like any family, adopted ones have growing pains. “There are cases of teenagers causing problems, but Spanish families deal with it with a great deal of patience,” Mukta remarks.

At times, prospective parents come and expect to have the baby immediately, sometimes expecting money to grease the wheels. People do not understand and get upset by the slow pace of bureaucracy. At other times, Mukta has to be the bearer of bad news. “I have two families waiting for two weeks now. They’re on the edge of a nervous breakdown. All their papers have come, but they don’t have a final signature. They’ve waited for a year, and now the officials are telling me that they shouldn’t wait but return to Spain.” Her face darkens with worry. “How can I tell the parents this? I am on the
frontline of giving this news.”

There is a psychological cost, and sometimes Mukta wonders if she should change her line of work. “One day one of the parents told me: Mukta, you shouldn’t feel this so deeply. This is one adoption for me. You’ve done hundreds. You should remain detached, like a doctor.”

Because of her work at the frontlines of adoption, Mukta is deeply committed to reforming the process. “Nepali bureaucracy is very unpredictable. If today is “yes,” tomorrow might be “no.” You never know in Nepal.” Because of the political situation and lack of elected representatives, the adoption process came to a halt for a year, and both children and families lost a year waiting for an official signature. This cost is too high for children, says Mukta.

“The adoption law has to be very clear, and implemented at all levels consistently. Each deadline in paperwork has to be explicitly stated in the law. There should also be a separate Adoption Commission attached to the Ministry of Women and Children, staffed by professionals who know the emotional, psychological and social issues of adoption. It shouldn’t be left to officials who are unclear, and unconcerned, about how the process impacts children and parents,” she says firmly.

Mukta suggests embassies set up adoption representatives—trust-worthy local facilitators who can help new parents navigate the bureaucratic maze, as well as the emotional ups and downs of the initial adoption process. Also important is the longterm connection to the country—with the help of people like Mukta, parents have come to realize the importance of keeping in touch with the country of origin, and of maintaining emotional linkages. Increasingly, Spanish families talk about teaching Nepali (and if that’s not possible, then English) so children can communicate when they visit Nepal.

As our interview comes to an end, a Spanish woman walking by greets us with Buenas Dias, and then a surprised and joyful: Mukta! It is a happy mother catching sight of a long-lost friend. She’s back to adopt a second child. As the two kiss warmly, it occurs to me that indeed adoption brings a lot of joy.

An Animated Life

A R T M A T T E R S

An Animated Life
By Sushma Joshi Illustrations by Ajanav Mohan Ranjit
ECS Magazine, March 2008

When Ajanav Mohan Ranjit told me that he’d created the animation filled with Nepali dancers and farmers that heralds the Kantipur news-hour, I said spontaneously: “I always wanted to meet the person who made that!” And it was true. There is a magical touch to that particular digital art that no other Nepali animation has been able to match.

I ask Ajanav what the secret is—is it 2D? Or 3D? He laughs at my confusion. “It’s a mixture of 2D, 3D and life action footage. We took a Kantipur van and went to Thimi. We started to take footage of everything. An old man came, carrying a basket. We asked him if we could shoot him. He said yes. As we started to set up the shot, he wandered away. ‘Money, money,’ he said, so we had to offer him some.” Also in Thimi, they found out traditional potters no longer use wooden wheels, but tires to make their pots. So they made a special request for a wooden wheel—one unused for fifteen years was found. The dancers came from a dance academy. The final image, composited out of three techniques, is the one we see daily on television. The animation continues to be shown after Ajanav left the station—Kantipur hasn’t replaced it partly because there is no artist with the same skillset in town.

Ajanav’s life is full of dynamic action, rather like his art. Despite the obstacles, he has forged his own path in a culture hostile to creative thinking.

Ajanav’s philosophy, like his animation, is striking. He wants, in his own words, “to do something different.” This may not appear striking until we remember that to veer off from the doctor-engineer career paths of Nepal is to court contempt, misunderstanding and ostracization. Which is what Ajanav got. “My friends would laugh when I told them. Fine arts? Why? They would ask. They even told me that fine arts was just for Third Division students—why was I, a First Division student, studying it?”

Despite these reactions, Ajanav joined Lalit Kala College of Fine Arts. In the broken down and dilapidated environment of the college he felt a second level of frustration. The students were still doing still life illustration after the first year. On the first day, a professor announced that their education was limited, and they’d have to go abroad if they wanted to study for a MA degree. This was not the art school he’d seen in Hollywood films.

In an attempt to keep his options open, Ajanav joined commerce classes. During basketball sessions, he listened to conversations about future careers. Young students studying commerce aimed to go on to steady salaried management jobs at Rs 10,000. “I can do better with fine arts, I felt,” Ajanav says. And this is when his journey to self-learning began.

Ajanav took a course with Hariram Jojo, an Indian artist who taught him the importance of field trips. He started to wake up at dawn to sit in temples to sketch. During this time, Ajanav observed that the art world of Nepal was predetermined in many ways. “It was already decided who’d win the prizes at the exhibitions. The senior artists were all set,” he says. He chose not to participate in any exhibitions for this reason.

Ajanav’s first break came with an offer to illustrate the Himalayan Pavilion in the Expo 2000 in Berlin. The pavilion, a mixture of Swayambhunath and Changu Narayan, was exhibited amongst many other artworks in Berlin. This pavilion won a Gold medal.

His second break came with an offer to do a 2D animation. “It was the first time I’d thought about animation. I didn’t know anything about it,” he admits. Infocom was developing Prince of Persia game for the US market, and they hired him. Other offers followed. Wild Storm DC hired him to do digital paintings. This work experience gave him the opportunity to learn about interactive multimedia graphics, and introduced him to 3D software.

“This is great software, I thought. I can see the top view, side view, bottom view. It really made my work easy.” In order to boost his knowledge, Ajanav took a one month course in 3D software, but the class, conducted with one computer and 15 students, taught him nothing. “I didn’t learn anything there. Then I started to surf the web and read up on web tutorials. I’d stay up all night. My mother’d come down at 5am and scold me for not going to bed.” This passion, Ajanav guesses, may have led to his breakthrough.
Restless to boost his skills further, and understanding that more skills would make him employable in Nepal’s tiny marketplace, Ajanav took a four month course in the now defunct Institute of Film, Television and Performing Arts. The course taught him the skills to become a film director. During this time, he heard a big television station was to start in Nepal, and he wanted to prepare himself to join it. “I’ll be there someday, I thought,” he says.

Sure enough, Kantipur network came to town. Soon, the place buzzed with the best people from Nepal. Ajanav was one of them. The energy was tremendous. “We really believed that change would come out of this. We went to work early and stayed till midnight. Sometimes we worked all weekend—it was so much fun.”

Ajanav, placed in digital broadcasting rather than in production, became inspired watching a showreel done by Belief, a company that made animations for the Indian industry. “We can reach this level, we thought,” he says. And this is what led to the famous news animation.

After two years in television, Ajanav felt his learning curve fall. In addition, he met Suyogya Tuladhar, an animator setting up a 2D animation house. “He had set it up very nicely to do animation. I was impressed.” Ajanav wanted to work with Suyogya and suggested working in 3D, instead of 2D. He’s learnt about a worldwide CGI community and was hooked to the global network through the web.

Ajanav heard an animator from Disney was coming to town. Kiran Joshi was known to have worked on Disney films like the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Narnia, and others. “To work in Hollywood is a dream for an animator. I really wanted to meet him. Finally, he came to Kantipur for a television interview. He became my idol,” says Ajanav, smiling.

“Lets do something for Nepal,” Ajanav said. Kiran Joshi, who’d taken a look at Ajanav’s impressive work, promised to return and do something. “He said that he would come back to do something. But for me, it was like somebody telling me they’d pick me stars from the sky. He worked in Hollywood. How would he come back to Nepal?”

In 2002 Ajanav quit television and started a commercial advertising company with a small group. They did more than 50 ads, including all of Dabur’s, within two years. “We were doing very well. But the domestic market is so small, and I was competing with my best friends. One night we would drink, the next their project would come to my desk.”

Ajanav decided to take a break and visit Bombay. “My aim was to stay there for a week, get refreshed,” he says. But as usual, Ajanav got lucky. The old friend who he called up worked for Sony TV. Anjan Gajurel, who worked as art director for mainstream Bollywood movies like Murder, took Ajanav to his workplace. “He was doing so well, and noone in Nepal knew about his work,” Ajanav says. “If people knew, they would be inspired to go and do fine arts.”

Through Anjan’s connection, Ajanav visited Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chili Studio, where the visual effects for the movie Don was being created. The supervisor, Puran Gurung, was a Nepali from the Northeast. Puran gave Ajanav a tour, leaving him impressed with the level of development in the Indian film industry.

Ajanav’s next stop was the Prana Animation Studio. Dibesh Maskey, another Nepali who worked there, gave him a tour of the world-class studio and facilities. The studio, based in the ILFS building in Bandra, was gigantic. The grandeur of the architecture, and the scale of the enterprise, struck Ajanav. A large hallway led to a room with a huge dome inside. About 300 animators worked on projects, including Tinkerbell, a Disney film. “It was like going abroad,” says Ajanav. “The place was so nice I could have worked for free.”

Maskey shared news about the latest software. He asked Ajanav what he used. Ajanav recalls saying: “I am a jack of all trades, master of none.” The pressure to know a little bit of everything, crucial to survive in Nepal’s tiny market, was useless in India, where a particular skillset was emphasized. He got himself an interview and an examination in the studio, and got a glimpse of their management methods. “That’s when I learnt about how an animation studio is run,” he says.

The Bombay trip inspired Ajanav to do something in Nepal. Now he had a clearer idea. “If Indian animation companies are doing Hollywood movies, we can do it, too,” he thought. “They’ve built up their manpower. Lets do something similar in Nepal.”

In December 2007, after months of preparation, Kiran Joshi, Suyogya Tuladhar and Ajanav Ranjit’s destinies came together with the opening of Incessant Rain production company. The company develops international animations for the global market. Today, Ajanav works in this spacious studio on projects for both Nepal and abroad. He hopes that young people from Nepal will not have to migrate because there are no options inside the country. “We’re trying to create a new platform for youngsters here,” he says. “We’re creating hope even in this difficult time when everybody wants to go abroad.”

So what made Ajanav, a fine art student who could have ended up making temple paintings for tourists, to lead such an interesting and successful life at a young age? What led him to pursue course after course of creative skills? What led him to break a path into a new and unknown world? “Some friends ended up in huge industries. Some still make traditional paintings of temples,” he says. “It all depended upon how they thought. If I had not thought differently, I would not be here today.”

Ajanav hopes that people who think of fine arts as an “optional subject” will rethink their views when they learn about the work done by artists in film, digital art and animation. “I want people to rethink their view of fine arts,” he says. “I want it to lose its stigma.” Next time we turn on the television to see the news and see that dancer come on, lets hope for a slight shift in that perception.

Sushma Joshi is a writer and filmmaker. She can be contact at: sushma@alumni.brown.edu

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Ajanav sent me some corrections:
hi susma,
         glad to see my article for the first time.I was expecting it on another issue anyway thank u very vey much.Havent checked magazine yet, just in net. But I found some mistakes see if it cud be updated on net.
1- Hariram Jojo is nepali not an Indian artist but I took class after coming back from india
2- Himalayan Pavilion in the Expo 2000 was held at Hannover which was later placed at berlin
3-Infocom was developing similar game like Prince of Persia game for the US market,
4-The dance animtion of kantipur is "Station ID" which is played every half hrs and news animation is the animation with clock and multi screens footages blended gfx played before news  .
5-I quited Kantipur 2 year before, not in 2002.
6-Kiran dai's works are Lion King, The Beauty and The Beast, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis The Lost Empire   but not Chronicle of narnia
 
Anyway I hope this article cud inspire creative youngster to join fine arts and help me walk another step  into creative world.Thank you very very much.

                                                              Ajanav