He told the bosses at Hotel Annapurna, “Give me the job of a public relations officer and I’ll stay.” But Sahadev Shumsher Rana, the man running the hotel back in the late 60s replied, “Be more ambitious, you should aim to become the first Nepali manager of this hotel.” So he left. Then as fate would have it, forty years later, Sahadev Rana’s daughter, Executive Director Shreejana Rana was to offer him what he had asked for back then: the job of a Public Relations & Media Consultant for the hotel. You never know what life is going to throw at you next. He took up the offer in 2007.
While the world was in turmoil due to World War II, Subarna Chhetri was born in Pulchowk, Kathmandu on 7th April 1944. It must have been a really quiet city, with no motor vehicles or motorcycles on the unpaved roads of Kathmandu. Nepal was still under the Rana regime and the country itself was cut off from the rest of the world; few visitors were allowed in. “After Primary education in Kathmandu, I was sent off to St. Columbus in Delhi and after completing school from Calcutta Boys School, I joined St. Xavier’s College in Calcutta where I also played football for the college team. By 1966, I had completed BA in English Honors and headed home to Nepal,” recalls Subarna. Growing up he had seen how being related to the royal family has its perks. During a bridge game in their home, his father asked Princess Helen Shah who owned Hotel Annapurna, if she could give Subarna a job. He not only joined Annapurna for a salary of Rs 350 a month, he worked in all the departments spending three to four months in each of them and then quit after a three-year stint.
One day after he’d left Annapurna, Subarna spotted an advert in the government run newspaper The Rising Nepal, announcing a vacancy for a Sub Editor. So he applied and got the job. “Barun Shumsher Rana was the Editor of ‘Nepalese Perspective’ a supplement back then and one of the editors around 1972 was Pashupati Shumsher Rana. After working for four years there I quit,” remembers Chhetri. With a sporting background, he had also become Joint Secretary for the Lawn Tennis Association as well as the Nepal Cricket Association. “I was probably the first sports reporter who also played cricket, since I was playing for Lenny Dorje’s team at the Gentleman’s Cricket Club in Tudikhel,” he says.
he next step in Subarna Chhetri’s colorful life was an invitation from the Director of United States Information Service (USIS) to join the office. So he quit Rising Nepal which he was already planning to leave and joined the USIS as second in charge after the Chief. Later when the Chief left, Subarna stepped into his shoes and was to spend nineteen long years at the helm. By then he had been appointed member of the Sports Council by King Birendra. He was also founding member of Nepal Gymnastics Association as well as the Nepal Shooting Association and Nepal Archery Association. If that sounds exhaustive, he then became Secretary General of the Olympic Committee and attended the Seoul Asian Games. “I was the Chef de Mission and led the Nepali Olympic team to Korea in 1986. Luck was on my side as we brought home eight bronze medals that year, four in Taekwondo and four in boxing,” he says proudly. But he was unlucky to miss the Russia Olympics because USA boycotted the games in 1980 and being an employee of the USIS, he felt obligated to follow suit. He did attend the LA Olympics however, and went to Greece for training.
Chhetri was also involved with the newly established Nepal Television (NTV) although the fact that he worked for a foreign entity like USIS proved problematic. King Birendra insisted that NTV must broadcast the first SAARC conference that was about to take place in Kathmandu. As Chairman of NTV Neer Shah was given the task of finding out if the Director of USIS had any problems letting Subarna get involved with NTV; there were no objections. The first few technicians were sent for training to the US through USIS. “Then an American expert stayed in Nepal for a year teaching everything from anchoring to script writing to delivery. Nepal Television did a commendable job covering the SAARC convention and we board members were all awarded with a Gorkha Dakshin Bahu,” says Subarna. When he became Board Director, he screened applicants and he remembers, “I interviewed Bhusan Dahal, Bijay Panday and Bandana Rana who all joined NTV.”
In 1989, Subarna finally retired from the USIS and set out on his own to start a weekly newspaper aptly named ‘The Independent’. One of the editors was Ram Pradhan who later became the Editor of The Himalayan Times. Chhetri ran the paper for ten years but when it seemed like it was losing its independence, he decided to close it down.
Subarna was also a member of Jaycees and he used to provide his club a Hall at the USIS. Then in 1994, the Jaycees were preparing to celebrate their Silver Jubilee and in order to do it in a big way, somebody suggested organizing a Miss Nepal contest. So the first Miss Nepal beauty pageant was a part of Jaycees’ celebrations. It turned out to be a big success, and ten members of Jaycees including Subarna, decided to establish an event management company called ‘The Hidden Treasure’ in 1995. The Jaycees organized one more Miss Nepal pageant which didn’t go very well after which The Hidden Treasure took over and organized the rest. In 1997, Miss Nepal also took part in the Asia Pacific Beauty Pageant and the same year applied for franchises of the world’s top beauty pageants like Miss World. They were successful in getting the franchise and that year, Miss Nepal also took part in the Miss World pageant. Since then they have acquired franchises for Miss Earth, Miss Universe, Miss Supranational and Miss International, becoming the only organization in the world to hold five franchises.
Chhetri served as Chairman of The Hidden Treasure for ten years. “Our mission is not only to hold beauty pageants but to give meaning and weight to the Miss Nepal brand and this brand gives women empowerment a platform,” says Subarna. “Miss Nepal wears the crown for one year, we want all the participants to wear it for life,” he adds. With Nepal’s representatives taking part in pageants around the world, they are promoting the country through the short video that is shown before each contestant comes on stage. The video showcasing the culture and heritage of the participant’s country is broadcast by Fox News in the US which is seen around the world. “Can you imagine how much an ad like that would cost the country if we wanted to promote Nepal through an American TV channel?” Subarna asks, as Nepal gets free promotion.
Through The Hidden Treasure, Subarna has been to the LA pageant and attended one in Bangkok. He believes, “Miss Nepal is a product of team work. It’s a national product with an international image. We as a team have brought it this far, now it needs government backing!” All ten members from the start are still with the organization.
Today Subarna works as a Media Consultant for Norvic Hospital; he is the PR & Media Consultant for both Hotel Annapurna as well as Radisson Hotel. He has edited two books, one of which was written by his father entitled “Nepal Rule & Misrule” in 1975. Then after the infamous palace massacre, he wrote, compiled and edited “The Kingdom on Edge” in 2012. He also brought out a book entitled “Life & Times of King Birendra”. Despite all that he has achieved in his fruitful life, Subarna Chhetri looks like he’s ready to take on more challenges. With his youthful enthusiasm and healthy look at 75, he seems unstoppable.
AWARDS: Gorkha Dakshin Bahu from King Birendra while he was Board Director at NTV. Was awarded ‘Most Outstanding Jaycee in the Asia Pacific Region’ in 1977. Awarded the Trishakti Patta by King Birendra after the Asian Games. Received a Gold Medal from the Communications Ministry for publishing an outstanding Souvenir celebrating King Tribhuvan’s Anniversary.
1. “I was the Chef de Mission and led the Nepali Olympic team to Korea in 1986. Luck was on my side as we brought home eight bronze medals that year, four in Taekwondo and four in boxing,”
2. “Miss Nepal is a product of team work. It’s a national product with an international image. We as a team have brought it this far, now it needs government backing!”
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