Nepalis prepare for a subdued DashainWhen it comes to festivals, Dashain is as pandemic unfriendly as it can get. And many people do not want—and cannot afford—to take chances of contracting Covid-19.
For the past six years, Awas Thapa always left Kathmandu on the eve of Fulpati for his village in Kaski district. He would catch the 8 pm bus that leaves Gongabu Bus Park and by 7 the next morning, he would reach his village.
“Like every household in the country, Dashain in our family has always meant a time when the entire family gets together, wears new clothes, eats good food, visits temples and seeks blessings from elders,” said Thapa, who moved to Kathmandu six years ago to work as a cook at a restaurant.
But for the first time in six years, Thapa says he won’t be going to his village to celebrate Dashain.
“Since Covid-19 is spreading so rapidly in the country, I don’t think it’s safe to travel to my village for Dashain,” said Magar. “Just thinking I might contract Covid-19 on my way to the village and infect my family and villagers gives me the chills. It’s a risk that I am not willing to take.”
Nepal recorded its first case of Covid-19 back in January, and on March 24, when the government declared nation-wide lockdown, the total number of cases in the country was only two. Fast forward to October 22, the total number of cases has reached 144,872 and 791 deaths (as of noon). The rising number of cases means that for many Nepalis this Dashain will be unlike any they have ever celebrated.
“Back in March when the government imposed the nation-wide lockdown, I don’t think anyone thought that we wouldn’t be able to celebrate Dashain. I thought that the virus would get under control in a month” said Thapa. “But by July, as the number of new cases continued to climb, it was pretty evident that Dashain celebration would have to take a backseat.”
At a time when social distancing has become the new norm, celebrating a festival like Dashain, which is all about gathering with family and friends, poses a lot of risks, says Sudip Umesh Bajagain, a resident of Inaruwa, Sunsari.
“The pandemic is anything but festival-friendly. Actually, it is diametrically opposing. Dashain is all about friends and relatives, but this year we have no choice but to celebrate without them,” said Bajagain. “If we do not abide by safety protocols and celebrate Dashain the way we are used to, we might have to pay a huge cost. I am not keen to see post-Dashain devastation at the cost of a few exhilarating days.”
Bajagain says that he and his family won’t be visiting anybody this Dashain and won’t be welcoming anybody into their home either.
Apart from the fear of contracting and spreading the virus, another reason for not celebrating Dashain like previous years, say Thapa and Bajagain, is because of the financial impact Covid-19 has had on them.
On the eve of the nation-wide lockdown back in March, Thapa says his employer gave him a month’s salary and advised him to return to his village. “Since I lived at the restaurant and my owner wasn’t sure when the lockdown would be lifted, he had suggested that I leave for my village and assured me that he would call me when things return to normalcy,” said Thapa. “I stayed in my village for five months, with no work and income. It was only in August that my employer called me and asked if I would want to resume work.”
Resuming work has brought some financial relief for Thapa, who is the sole breadwinner in his family of four. But not enough to spend on celebrating Dashain.
“How my family celebrates Dashain has always depended on how much money I send them. But the months of unemployment left me with no disposable money to send home,” said Thapa. “I felt terrible, so last week, I requested my employer to give me a month’s salary in advance and I wired that money to my family. The money should cover a pair of new clothes for my sister and mother and a little something to spend on special food for the festival.”
The decision to not go home for the festival, says Thapa, is a financial one. “By not going home for the festival, I save at least Rs 1,000 in transportation expenses. My parents can now buy groceries with that money for the festival,” said Thapa. “I have also urged my family to not go out much and to maintain social distancing and other safety measures as much as possible.”
The truth is, says Bajagain, everyone has been hit financially by the pandemic.
“People who have lost jobs are lost and business owners are anxious about their business. I’m struggling too, and have been looking desperately for a ‘stable’ job other than the freelancing stuff I’m doing,” said Bajagain. “This will impact the way people celebrate Dashain, because if there is anything Dashain is notorious for—it’s the showing off og expenses for the sake of ephemeral pleasure. I can’t imagine my family celebrating Dashain the same way as we used to.”
Keeping in mind the alarming number of cases and the financial stress the festival demands, Thapa and Bajagain say it makes much more sense to have a tamped down Dashain celebration this year.
“My parents were gutted when I told them that I won’t be coming home this Dashain but they understand the situation,” said Thapa. “I hope that by next Dashain, things will get back to normalcy, and we could go all back to celebrating our most beloved festival the way we are used to celebrating it.”