BY GABBY RAYMOND ’20
Students eagerly sampled steaming hot momos drizzled with spicy chili sauce and tangy paneer curry as they enjoyed performances that painted the stage in Chapin Auditorium with color during Mount Holyoke’s annual Himalayan Night on Oct. 26.
In most people’s geographic imagination, the Himalayas are central to Nepal, which is home to eight of the mountain range’s ten highest peaks. In fact, Nepal is so culturally influenced by the range that its flag is two triangles, symbolizing the Himalayas. In addition to Nepal, the Himalayan mountain range passes through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Tibet.
Mount Holyoke’s Himalayan Night, hosted by the Nepali Student Organization (NEPSO), might center more on the region of Tibet and Nepal, but they strive to represent the culturally diverse nations around the immense range. Aryaa Rajouria ’20, an international student from Nepal and a member of NEPSO, said Nepali students have been putting on the annual dinner and show for about 20 years. “The whole South Asian region — our histories, our culture and our language — is so aligned,” she said. “Because of our similarities we decided to bring people together and share whatever we can. It’s another space for people to come together and have a voice on a campus that at times feels so far from home.”
For many students from the South Asian region, it can take almost 24 hours of travel to get to the College. Once here, everything from “the architecture to the weather, to the language [spoken] every day” is different, said Rajouria. For her, the night is a time to pool together resources from South Asian student organizations and showcase the different experiences of students through dance, song, presentations and, of course, food.
Repeat performers from previous years include Taal, Jhumka and Bhangra, dance groups that each perform different styles of dance from India and Pakistan. Taal and Jhumka showed off fusion forms of Bollywood dance and Bhangra kept the traditional Punjabi form. The cochair of NEPSO, Nista Shrestha ’20, said the organization opened up to a more diverse range of student groups this year, including the Nice Shoes, which has two Nepali members, Prachi Mulmi ’21 and Sara Pradhan ’22. Both members were highlighted as the lead singers in the group’s renditions of “Fast Car” and “Just to Be With You.”
The educational part of the program came from the UMass, Amherst chapter of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), who spoke about Chinese erasure of Tibetan culture during China’s long occupation of the region, which began in 1958. Acknowledgement of Tibet as a country, and as a separate cultural entity from China, is always a bone of contention, as the topic of Tibetan statehood is still hotly contested today. According to their presentation, SFT “campaigns for Tibetans’ fundamental right to political freedom through grassroots organizing.” They hope their network of activists will aid the “struggle for freedom and independence in Tibet.” According to an organizer, several Chinese students walked out during the presentation, a pattern repeated from past years. Nevertheless, Shrestha felt it was important to continue to include the SFT presentation because the Nepali and Tibetan people are so closely intertwined. “After the movement in the 1950s when China took over Tibet, people started moving and their closest destinations were India and Nepal,” she said. “In Kathmandu, the capital city [of Nepal], there is a huge community of Nepali-Tibetans and we feel like one — there is a mix of culture and a mix of food because they have been living there for so long now.”
Rajouria noted that the event recognized many different experiences of Tibetan, Nepali and Indian students, serving as a night where students could “really just be [themselves], culturally in a way that [they] don’t every day.” She herself donned a sari for the evening.
Whether students were from the Tibetan region, India or Nepal, Himalayan Night was well-placed, falling between two major celebrations at home; in Nepal, the extravagant 10-day long celebration of Dashain started on Oct. 19 and Tihar, or Diwali in India, will be celebrated on Nov. 7. “Himalayan Night has been a very good event [for] bringing people together,” Shrestha said. “It’s about showing people that even though we are a small community, we are still here.”