The girl stood frozen on the stage, pale and rigid with fright as the audience’s impatient rustling turned to jeers and catcalls. ‘Just say something, anything,’ I mouthed, gesticulating encouragement to her from my vantage point on the panel of the judges table. The moments lengthened, the heckling increased and the beautiful girl immobilised on stage stayed silent, paralysed. I was frantic, the poor thing.
We were at the final glitzy night of judging of Miss Nepal 2004 in Kathmandu, rife with razzamatazz and televised live into every eager household in the still-Kingdom. Beside me, SK Singh and Captain Vijay Lama sat super cool in their crisp suits and snowy white shirts, and even I was dressed up for Kathmandu’s most glamorous evening, poured into a borrowed low-cut sequined jacket, rather too snug around the shoulders. It was question time during the pageant, a tricky moment when the finalists are called upon to respond to the judge’s questions.
My Rotarian friend Gopal Sundar Lal Kakshapati had honoured me with an invitation to join the panel of judges, rubbing shoulders with Seema Golcha, Nalina Chitrakar Mishra, Melina Manandhar and other social acolytes. I had enjoyed the camaraderie of the convoluted selection process that precedes the plush and glittering final event. From thousands of applicants auditioned in eight regional centres, a select 25 contestants progress to six weeks of coaching and team building. For us judges, a full day sifting through the entrants with one-on-one interviews to come up with the final few who parade at the highly publicised pageant. Personality, poise, ambition and intention were more important than looks, according to the criteria by which we were charged, and I saluted the women’s theme that under-ran the event.
In those guileless days, I specially liked the Bhaktapur lady who proudly proclaimed her jyapu heritage and how much time she spent in the fields, the Patan beauty who helped in her parents’ tea-shop, and the Tibetan girl who, when asked how she would spend the prize money, eschewed all political correctness by boldly (and honestly) proclaiming that she would use it to emigrate to Canada. Even I realised that she would never make the shortlist.