At first glance, all you notice are those cheekbones. Cut high and sharp like prized diamonds, those soaring arcs are what most fashion models— or any woman, really — would kill for. It's only when Anjali Lama tells you flatly that she's a transgender model from Nepal whose big dream of walking in an international fashion week is about to come true, that you even realise she's not just another beautiful face on a billboard.
Born Navin Waiba to a farming family in Nuwakot, Nepal, Anjali's story seemed destined to play out as another closeted truth. "People would often comment, 'He's a boy, why's he acting like a girl?'", she says when I talk to her over the phone. We communicate in a jumble of English and Hindi, a classic symptom of human ambition that won over circumstance. "I tried to conform, I dressed like a boy. It was only when I left home for Kathmandu that I even found out that there were other people like me."
While working in a hotel to pay her way through college, Anjali happened to catch a TV programme on Nepal's transgender community. After contacting the Blue Diamond Society, an organisation that works for sexual minorities, she finally chose to live by her true identity. "I came out in 2005, and it was a torturous experience. I don't want to repeat the cruel names I was called. When my family found out, they said I was dead to them. Only my mother kept contact, she gave me the strength to stand by my decision."
Despite the backlash, Anjali's decision to fully embrace her gender identity began to pay off. She put that Alpine bone structure to use, landing the cover of 'Voice Of Women' in 2009. "My friends told me I was not meant to be stuck in Nepal, that I should try to become an international supermodel."
The transgender model took that advice, and first auditioned for Lakme Fashion Week Summer Resort 2016. She was rejected.
"I remember feeling quite helpless and even considered giving up on fashion," she says. "But I decided to try again and this time, I did my research. I watched videos of models walking the ramp, changed my make-up and wardrobe. I practiced posing in front of the mirror so I would be able to present myself to the judges well. And it worked."
Now there's just one thing left on this 32-year-old model's bucket list. Anjali Lama giggles nervously when I ask, then admits, "My dream is to walk for Manish Malhotra."
Here she is, all grace and poise, as she works the runway for Monisha Jaising's opening show.