I used to travel five hours through a secluded forest rumored to be infested with tigers and beers to go to my maternal uncle’s house on the day of tika. Primary motivation was dakshina
The celebration of Dashain, the biggest festival of Nepal, witnesses the greatest exodus of people from the cities and towns to the villages but not on a scale that used to occur around two decades back. Families broken and bruised are healing for a while now.
It’s the only time of the year when the village life gets resuscitated as the bold (read young) mingle with the old. The village trails have already been tidied and unwanted weeds plucked and chucked aside. They are ready to be trodden by the young girls and boys (with dyed hair, perhaps) donning high heels and leather shoes and an aura of artificiality aided by the deodorants.
They might look queer and smell peculiar but still they are greeted with unconditional smiles and affable curiosity. They are welcomed with ripe guavas and cucumber slices everywhere they go even if they have lost their appetite due to overriding concerns of poor mobile network connections as they hate to fall behind their peers to upload selfies and festival photos on the social media.
The blessings have already grown in the form of maize and barley sprouts in the darkest cranny rechristened as ‘jamara’. Young grooms desperately wait to measure the distance between their homes and their in-laws to seek blessings, and of course, the ‘dakshina’ (offering of monetary gift), which is probably the most motivating factor of the entourage. They carry their kids on their shoulders up and down the trails, through the woods, gasp for breathe, rest on the hilltops, and drink from the wells/ spouts to make it to the destination by the dusk.
Irrespective of station in life, people’s love for gift/money is simply irrepressible. Anybody given an envelope on such occasions does know the true meaning of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Every passing second feels like ages before they open the envelope and check the amount in privacy. The theory of relativity can be summed up in a couple of sentences: If you spend twelve hours with somebody you adore, it feels like twelve minutes. If you spend twelve hours with somebody you despise, it feels like twelve years.
When I was a child, I used to travel five hours through a secluded forest rumored to be infested with tigers and beers to go to my maternal uncle’s house on the day of tika. The primary motivation was ‘dakshina’ as our parents and village elders would not give us/boys any money although the girls used to get their pockets full. Nowadays, most of the boys are not as unlucky. Boys are also given money albeit lesser than the girls.
I compensated the lack of pocket money (during my childhood) when I grew up to be a young man with a job even though it was measly compared to the efforts put in. I queued up at Nepal Rastra Bank in Thapathali to buy many wads of new bills (read notes) of five, ten, twenty, fifty, and hundred denominations before I headed home to the village for Dashain celebration.
I gave my parents adequate number of new bills to be given as ‘dakshina’ to the special blessing-seekers (niece, nephew, sons-in-law etc) who visited our home on the day of ‘tika’. I even had to urge them to be more generous and reassure them that all the expenses would be on me. The satisfaction gained from being useful/ helpful to parents was unsurpassable in the whole world.
I must also admit that I exchanged the rest of the new bills with old bills for other family members and neighbors. Everybody loved to give and receive new bills during Dashain although they said money has a dark face, metaphorically, whether new or old. It did not smell good either. Frankly speaking, I found the smell nauseating.
What smelt good was the newspapers and Dashain special issues of monthly magazines, which I bought and carried home to my village. News and analysis enthusiasts thronged our home to read those newspapers and magazines. They thanked me for those newspapers and magazines. I was happy to find them happy.
I wish I could become the boy who was happy to get a thick cotton shirt and polyster short on an annual basis during the Dashain festival and sweated from head to toe after wearing them for first time owing to shyness. I wish I could undertake a five hour journey on foot to seek ‘dakshina’ with my maternal uncles (deceased).
Not everything is rosy during Dashain trips. The drivers are the kings and the pedestrians are the subjects to be honked and harassed on the roads. They will pick up and drop any passenger wherever they please. Braking and beckoning the pedestrians to cross the streets is not part of an established civic duty for them. They superimpose their existence and identity by baring the horn.
The villages today are not as vibrant as they used to be in the past. There are very few girls left to compete to play ‘ping’ (swing) built by the ‘chautari’ (public resting place) and there are quite a limited number of boys to move the swing in full speed to curry favor from the girls. There are minimal onlookers like me left in the villages, who neither get the opportunity to play the swings nor can move them on their own. There are very few swings built in the first place.
The great exodus of people from the villages to the city caused by the great intimidation of the so-called people’s war has never been reversed. Nor is it going to be reversed any time soon. The crowded cities and empty/deserted villages and barren fields/lands tell us a story of a rural civilization at crossroads in Nepal.
They are symptomatic of the hollow promises and gifts of development from our comrades, who are at the helm and running the country on an ad hoc basis. They have lost all the credibility but still have achieved credulity of their followers who are fond of fake hero worship.
Democracy thrives when people are capable of changing their opinion. It is a sham where most educated people do not change their opinion and their votes while the uneducated ones play kingmakers.
Therefore, I am worried about our democracy because we are born either Communists or Congress or Pahadi or Madhesi or Bahun or Newar or Yadav or Harijan. Very few of us are born to be independent Nepali citizens. Let me hope, Goddess Durga endowed us with more independent and free thinking minds this year.