PRATEEK RAJ NEUPANE: AGAINST THE GRAIN
The last time we checked, teachers weren’t supposed to look like someone you’d find on Pinterest under tattoos and beards. And rarely do they play an antagonist in mainstream cinema and rarer still are cases of lecturers who play in a popular metal band.
Prateek Raj Neupane juggles a life that seems to be in two opposing end of a spectrum. He is a faculty member at King’s College where he carries out lectures on leadership and psychology.
And he also plays the guitar in three underground death metal bands: Ugra Karma, 72 Hours,
and Binaash. For those of you who aren’t adept with the underground death metal scene of Nepal but still find him familiar, he also plays an antagonist in the popular movie Loot.
It’s quiet an intriguing phenomenon this, especially when it’s not on western media and rather in the very real and socially developing nation like ours. While the majority of people still frowns upon body decorations and jump to conclusions faster than a rabbit on cocaine, Prateek has been handling things quite well. Here he shares his experience from both sides of the table and the changing perception of society.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO TEACHING?
I always wanted to contribute back to the society, but I didn’t have a clear idea on how to go about it. I tried teaching once back in 2068 but for not very long. Then I did a few other jobs but I wasn’t really happy with it. Then I realized that I wanted to change the mindset of the youths and teaching seemed like a good and fast way to do that.
AND YOUR BAND?
I got into it when I was pretty young, and I practice and perform still.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR TATTOOS.
I started back in the mid 90s, when it wasn’t as much of a fad as it is now. I wasn’t a fanatic either. A friend of mine DIYed a tattoo machine and we just tried it out. The first tattoo I had was not that good so to cover it up, we went for another one, then another one, then another one and so on.
DO THEY HAVE A STORY BEHIND YOUR TATTOOS?
There are experiences, more than stories. But there is no specific meaning behind them.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU GOT YOUR FIRST TATTOO?
Probably around 18, 19 or 20.
WERE YOUR TATTOOS WELL THOUGHT OUT?
We did look at the designs but like I said, my friend was just starting out. So mostly it was just trying it on with hopes that he’ll get better at it. Besides, I was young and when you’re young, you don’t really think things through thoroughly.
HAS THE PERCEPETION ABOUT BODY ART CHANGED IN NEPAL IN YOUR EXPERIENCE?
Nepal has become more open minded in recent years, but there is still a stigma that surrounds tattoos and body art when it comes to the professional work life. Give us your opinion on that.
I think that the case is the same all over the world. Obviously it’s an urban phenomenon; only those who are well off enough get tattooed from good artists here in Nepal because it costs a lot. Yet people with tattoos and other body art are still tagged as a convict or someone sinister.
And I’m not just saying that. An artist I know was travelling to Kurintar with his family and he had his 2 year old kid with him. On the way, the cops stopped him and accused him of kidnapping the kid. He was let go only after producing the birth certificates and all sorts of mumbo- jumbo. So if you choose to get a tattoo, you need to be ready to cope with the society’s negative perception on it. Other western countries may claim to be accepting and broad minded and all that, but tattoos are labeled negatively. So you need to be able to face that.
WHAT SORT OF REACTIONS DO YOU GET WHEN PEOPLE SEE YOUR TATTOOS? HAVE YOU EVER HAD INSTANCES WHEN YOUR TATTOOS HAVE SWAYED PEOPLE’S JUDGMENT OR PERCEPTION ABOUT YOU?
The institution I work at is liberal. They allow us to come teach in a polo shirt. But I choose to wear a shirt. Whenever I get inked, I don’t get it where it can be concealed when required. Yyou never know who you’ll upset and things like that may put my career at risk. Better safe than sorry.
This one time, I was at a movie theater and for some reason I felt really claustrophobic in there. I and my wife got out of there in some 15 minutes and on the way home my wife insisted we go see a doctor. So we went to the hospital, I was wearing a half t-shirt at the time and the first question the doctor asked me was if I did cocaine.
People do give a hard time to people who are inked. My own grandmother, who is very traditional, refused to drink the water I touched for the first few months after I got my first tattoo.
HOW CAN PEOPLE’S PERCEPTIONS BE ALTERED?
First of all, I think that one does not have to go out and fight for it. Just do the thing you do and be a good person and eventually people will think good of you regardless of your tattoos. There are positive stereotypes that tattooed people can look forward to too.
TELL US MORE ABOUT THIS POSITIVE STEREOTYPING.
Well, I don’t know how it happens, but my student eventually find out that I have tattoos and am in a band. This makes them perceive me as a “cool” person and someone who’s relatable and open minded. Hence, they start to open up and share things with me and a deeper teacher-student bond is established which is very helpful.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE THINGS IN YOUR LIFE?
I am not very sure myself either! I never plan or anything like that, I’m very spontaneous. However, I’m very lucky to have supportive people around me. I am a full time teacher but I am given the privilege of a part time teacher. In this way, the things in my life are manageable. Plus, the things I do are the things I love, so it doesn’t get hectic. Juggling 3 bands (Ugra Karma, 72 Hours and Binaash) too has been easy enough. But, I do have a baby on the way and I have no idea how I’m going to manage that.