A Dashain, despite it allFestivities are but an occasion to celebrate life. But what if there is nothing to celebrate? When life is squeezing you from all sides and you are meandering pillar to post just to eke out a living, what is there to be merry about? Or so I had thought. But having been party to the Dashain celebrations at the squatter community along the Bagmati River in Thapathali, I now know otherwise.
Text and photos: Prakash Chandra Timalsena
Festivities are but an occasion to celebrate life. But what if there is nothing to celebrate? When life is squeezing you from all sides and you are meandering pillar to post just to eke out a living, what is there to be merry about? Or so I had thought. But having been party to the Dashain celebrations at the squatter community along the Bagmati River in Thapathali, I now know otherwise.
On the morning of the day of the Tika, when I visited the squatter community at Thapathali, it was as if I had jumped into a time warp—to a time when Dashain did not come coupled with manifold societal expectations and snobbery. In many ways, Dashain at the sukumbasi settlement separates the husk from the grain, taking one back to the very basics—family, community and letting the pushes and pulls of the daily life go.
The squatter community at Thapathali is not the largest in the Capital, it is not even the most squalid. But once here, the environs are immediately arresting. Frail, ramshackle huts dot the embankment and the dark, foreboding river slinking by, exudes a perennial odour that seems to permeate everything. As if leafed out of a dark, joyless novel, the settlement seems forever on the brink, quite literally.
But despite it all, the residents were brimming with joy now that the festival was at their doorsteps, forgetting the struggles of yesterday, and what fate the future had in store. A great number of the settlement’s residents have adopted Christianity, but like so many other such recently-converted communities in the country, Dashain remains an exception. In fact, it would seem that the zeal with which the Hindu festival is observed has not lost its sheen, and if anything is celebrated with more gusto—an opportunity to put off the struggle of getting by for one precious day.
Thapathali is at the belly of the heaving beast that Kathmandu has become, yet on the day of the Tika, the community exuded a vibe of a remote village—the barrage of horns and hoots silent, the thick veil of dust and smoke gone. Children were swinging away on the make-shift pings, the adults going about their festive chores. Some were busy playing Kauda and Ludo, some flying kites, while others preparing tika. The age-old culture of exchanging jamaras, however, was abandoned. Having no suitable place to grow jamaras—that are usually planted in a separate worship room—the community exchanged flowers instead.
Witnessing the merriment the festival brought to the community, especially the children, I could not help but think how beautiful their lives would be if they were not bound by the basic struggle to survive. Coming from a family that has never had to truly struggle to make ends meet, the resilience of the community, and their ability to cherish what matters in life, despite of it all, was a wonderful takeaway. One that will stay with me even as the city slinks back into its usual routine, Dashain this year, and its art of forgetting, now having come and gone.