Growing up in Nepal, Kiran Gajmer never thought life could get this good. His family had fled Bhutan during the 1990s ethnic cleansing that took place in the Himalayan nation and took refuge in the Khudunabari camp in Jhapa of eastern Nepal.
The camp was where he was born. That was where he grew up. That was where he dreamed of a better future.
Fast forward now, the kid born in the refugee camp is a name known throughout Nepal. On Saturday, he became the third winner of the popular singing reality show, the Voice of Nepal. But, his journey to get there was not as easy as people are making out to be.
A refugee’s reality
For 14 years, he lived in the refugee camp which he called home. There, he walked barefoot and slept on an empty stomach. When asked what he was, he could neither say he was a Nepali nor could he say he was a Bhutanese. From an early age, he knew that everything he had in Nepal was going to be temporary along with his house and friends. But, he always hoped things could change.
That change came when his family relocated to the US after being granted asylum. There, he got everything a young boy could wish for. But every year, he would be reminded that even the US was not a country he could call home.
His life changed there. He got into medical school and was doing well. Along with that, he was also into singing which had become his escape. Every time he felt lost, he would grab his guitar and start to sing. That camp in Jhapa, which had been his home for 14 years, was always on the back of his mind.
Even though he is an American citizen, he is not satisfied with it. He lives the American dream that many people can only dream of, but that dream has not been able to give him something he has longed for – identity. He has a home in the US, but he is homeless.
Very nostalgic about Nepal, he had returned to see what had happened to Nepal. During his time here, he found out about the Voice of Nepal audition. A singing enthusiast, he decided to take part.
Audition and adversities
“It was an easy decision. I love Nepal and its people. This place has embraced me so much and I love Nepal’s music. There is a something about it that brings me closer to Nepal and its people,” he says.
Before singing in the blind audition, Gajmer had already done a bit of singing in Nepal. He had composed songs like Purnimako Chandrmalai while he had also sung songs for movies like Radha and Sadhe Saat among many others.
But, his real break came after the blind audition when he sang Teenpatey. The love he got after that has inspired him in so many ways, he says.
“If you look at it, Nepal is all over the world. I want to be that voice which represents each and every Nepali living abroad,” he says. “I came here for that purpose.”
Along with love, Gajmer has received a fair share of criticism, mostly to do with his identity. As he is a US citizen, people have been saying that he will leave Nepal as soon as this ends.
“It feels bad when they say that. But, my goal is to use Nepali music and spread the message of peace and brotherhood. I will not divert from this goal,” he says.
He has been in Nepal for the past eight months and has been losing out on an opportunity to find better work in the US. But, that has not bothered him too much as his focus was to do well in this competition in Nepal.
Neither does Gajmer look like someone who will be fazed by the criticism that comes his way.
“Some of it is uncalled for and those are the ones that hurt. But, that also gives me the motivation to prove people wrong,” he says.
A person who has helped him through all this was his coach during the competition, Pramod Kharel. Along with Kharel, he also says he is very thankful to Karan Raj Karki, who became his master. It was Karki who asked Gajmar to sing Teenpatey during the audition.
“Both have been amazing. Their support has been invaluable.”
He is quite a team player too.
There was a time when he had a friendly rivalry with Rabi Gahatraj. Both were on course to reach the finals. But, Gahatraj was eliminated prior to him.
“It was quite sad when that happened. I think the media was trying to cause a stir and try to create an image where it was me versus him, but that has never been the case. We’ve been great friends.”
The final accolades
He says he will be dedicating the trophy to everyone who was in the Team Pramod as he felt everyone played their role in him reaching the finals.
“This trophy is for everyone. All 16 of us who were part of Team Pramod.”
He says that during this journey, he had a lot of support from every Nepali around the globe. This he says is very welcoming as he was sceptical at first if people would accept a refugee.
“I am a fruit from a tree which was thrown out and accepted by someone else. The love, the messages and the recognition I’ve received are amazing. I don’t have words to express this.”
Every time he gets on stage, he wants to give his best because he does not want to disappoint the people who have been supporting him. “If I can do that, I’ll have achieved my objectives.”