Driving on any of the Tihar holidays gives you the feeling that the entire city is asleep. Compared to the fun and revelry outside people's homes in other south Asian cities during festivals, Kathmandu looks like a ghost town. Eateries and shops are closed and for most there's not much to do. This Beed is yet to understand how we can boost the economy if we always want to keep everything shut.
Hunting for a restaurant on festival days that actually is willing to serve customers is difficult even though going by the crowds around stalls outside City Centre, the demand is definitely there. Young people, especially girls, who earn and spend their own money ensured the stalls did great business. It is a pity that when there are so many customers looking for good places to eat, eateries are closed. In Nepal, people complain about business being bad, but if we keep on closing down on days that people want to splurge, then we have only ourselves to blame. This extends to our closing of markets on Saturdays, the only days shoppers have time to go out on a buying spree. But to protect the interest of god-knows-who, we have decided to close markets on Saturday. If we complain about high unemployment rates, then how can we have the luxury of closing down for so many days?
Flower sellers on the first day of Laxmi Puja charge up to Rs 800 but don't realise that it is better to sell one's wares at reasonable prices. At the end of the day taking away unsold goods or selling at throwaway prices is definitely not good business. Yet so many businesses will foolishly try to take advantage of similar situations, be it by trying to sell water and noodles at three times the usual price during chakka jams or by trying to extort unreasonable prices from a tourist only to dissuade them from buying anything.
The world over, people make lots of money from tourists during festivals. Why would tourists come to see how Tihar is celebrated when they have to clamour to find a place to have a decent meal without being fleeced? Wouldn't it be wonderful to have cultural street carnivals without political overtones that showcase the culture of Nepal and would be on par with the carnivals of Brazil? If other cities famous for pilgrimages can leverage festivals to attract tourists, why can't we? The mass mha pujas could be part of a package that showcases the depth of local cuisine. How about events at the viewing point at Swayambhu or Lakhure or Hattiban to see the valley aglow during Tihar celebrations? There are so many things to do!
The way we celebrate Tihar now, by closing shops and eateries, shows that our mindset has not changed despite the immense political changes Nepal has undergone. Like the people who used to stand outside Narayanhiti Palace to watch the fireworks when they were banned for commoners, we use fireworks knowing they have been illegally procured. We spend hours gambling knowing very well that gambling is not legal here, with Nepali citizens prohibited from going to casinos. This is so confusing!
No wonder Goddess Laxmi is yet to really make an impact in Nepal.