She’s giggles, sweet and sass rolled into one. Subin Limbu’s overnight win at the event of the year has made her a household name. Social media caught up in the blink of an eye. New fan pages were being made on the newly crowned Miss Nepal and were getting liked by the thousands; people clamoring at the smallest link between her and them, wishing to be able to share a millionth of her limelight.
I had met Subin a number of times before, on few of the preliminary rounds throughout her training period for the pageant. A tall girl draws attention easily. And at 5’8, she is hard to miss. But I took note of her only after her answer in the final five round of the event when she was asked how she would help mobilize Nepal’s divergent youth, to which she had replied that she would begin with utilizing the country’s resources; first: nature, water and then intelligence, an answer that hit home unlike most of the others who skirted the questions with pink-lipped smiles and a lot of ‘I believe’ and ‘I hope’.
We are backstage at the cover photo-shoot for Living, the first in the line of many for Subin. However, Subin is not new to seducing the camera; she had previously bagged the 1st runner-up title for Miss Mongol 2010 and has also walked the ramp for TGIF Fashion week 2011. She discloses that it was her mother in fact, who wanted her to try out for beauty pageants and after her regional win, she wanted to move on to something bigger.
“I had to choose between taking up my Masters and training for Miss Nepal. For now, I chose the latter,” says Subin as she straps on purple heels, dwarfing the entire room. People scurry about her as she leaves the green room and readies herself before a white backdrop, with at least a dozen people staring at her. She flashes a pearly smile at the camera. Her carefully made-up demeanor slips at times, however, when the photographer asks her for cheesy late 80’s Bollywood diva shots and she subsides into a fit of infectious giggles.
“I literally went numb. Had I really heard that right?” Subin still remembers her big night with disbelief. “To tell you the truth, I really thought someone else was going home with the crown.” As the final moments grew nearer, a seemingly flustered Subin could be seen over the stage after going through the preordained rounds one after the other. “I think the moment when it really began to sink in was when the three of us were being bombarded by photographers and their blinding lights.”
From Dharan to Kathmandu, Subin’s journey has been long and mostly unrecognized until now. She shares an apartment with her sibling in the city while her parents still live outside the valley. She moved to Kathmandu in pursuit of better opportunities and the hope that something big would come along her way; which did. I ask if she was always considered the ‘pretty girl’ from her days at school to which she bursts into laughter, shaking her left to right as if I had made an outrageous inquiry.
“It was every bit the opposite,” she recalls. Subin, in fact, grew up with perpetual braces and skin allergies. She towered over most of the girls at school. “I used to be called a giraffe throughout high-school,” she recounts. She took this to her advantage and took up basketball as a sport and became good at it, slamming the ball with equal gusto as her mostly male teammates. This made Subin seriously consider sports as a profession but she hadn’t made up her mind as to which sports to pursue. Then she took up tae-kwon-do and eventually earned a ‘blue belt’. But all changed until the day she survived a near-fatal blow to the head by an opponent.
She was 16 then and was participating in a local tournament organized in Pathari in Morang where she was one of the few girls representing Dharan from the Dharan Do-jang club. Her opponent in question was a much older woman decorated with black belt. As the final round drew nearer, her opponent hacked a near fatal blow on Limbu’s head with her leg in response to her martial antics. The head is seen as the focal point to hit in martial arts if you wish to ‘score more’.
“A hammer kick!” shudders Subin in the green room lined with clothes for her dress changes and makeup and accessories scattered all over the tables. “Kaile ni birsinna hola! I can still remember the resounding humm in my skull after she nearly knocked me out. But I still got up after a few minutes and completed the match. I couldn’t collect myself for quite a while though. Still, I came third.”
The second shot has Subin sporting spiraling side curls in a flowery dress. Her tall lithe body works well with the fabric and you can almost see the final image in print as her long lashes linger on you. She is more comfortable with her foreign surroundings now and tries to reimagine herself frame to frame. Backstage, she says it’s all about adaptability and that you can’t expect to grow if “you’re the one who’s holding yourself back”. And it was with this same conviction that Subin participated in the pageant.
The Miss Nepal training lasts a good six weeks, with every aspect of personality development like personal hygiene and behaviour covered. More specific training like learning to listen and respond and even delighting people is also part of the training. During all the rigours of the session, the participants try submerging themselves in a plethora of information with the hope that it may help substantiate to the winning answer. I ask Subin if the training has really helped her come across as a better person.
“Yes,” she answers earnestly. “One thing that we’re taught to do all the time is to keep smiling,” adds Subin. “We were told to focus on the happier times or memories and bring it to the surface.”
Backstage at the shoot, Subin is grabbing any girl who would listen to her to try and enter a beauty pageant just for the fun of it and starts bustling around us like we are actual contenders. The green room is filled with laughter as Subin literally has me strutting around in heels.
Subin will also begin prepping for Miss World mid-may. When asked if she feels stressed being the Miss Nepal after Ishani Shrestha, who had successfully made her mark on the international pageant, she replies that Shrestha’s win has encouraged her further instead of having frightened her and that she will be one of her mentors now for the upcoming pageant for which she seems grateful. Among the infinite number of people who have come up to her and given her ‘useful’ advice, Limbu still remembers Ishani’s farewell words when giving away the crown: ‘If you don’t believe in yourself; no one will’, as something akin to a mantra.
“One shouldn’t really doubt her potential as she did go on to win the crown. That on its own speaks volumes,” says Shweta Singh on Subin. “As her trainer throughout the duration of the pageant, I have to admit that initially, a few other girls were more outspoken than her. They spoke their mind better but she began to stand out week by week as we progressed to the end, asking more questions and abandoning her comfort zone. Her strive will make her shine.”
“[Subin] reminded me of myself,” says former Miss Nepal Malvika Subba in an open letter to Subin published on Fr!day weekly, “ a full on tomboyish person, waiting to get out of the mold.” Subba further writes, “From an ordinary girl one day, you’ve become a celebrity overnight. It takes some time to get used to the idea.” She concludes, “Always give your 500%.”
As Limbu graces the camera again, I am reminded of her coronation dinner when in a few stolen moments in her green room, I had asked, if at the moment her heart sang any song in particular. She had lifted the flowing robe of her yellow dress and sang ‘Jun ta lagyo tara le!’, and one cannot help but feel that this star will indeed outshine everything in time to come.