Dasain is said to have its origins in pre-Vedic celebration of post-monsoon harvest festivals. This is why it still commands that joyous, secular following to complement its rituals. The heat and the rain are over, there is a nip in the air, the sky is blue and the mountains are out.
We go back to our roots, looking for the familial and ancestral ties that bind clans. Like all traditions elsewhere in the world, Dasain too, is shedding its religious antecedents and has become more of a family festival. Which is why the campaign to boycott Dasain doesn't have much traction because its proponents have chosen to ignore the fact that Dasain is a Nepali cultural festival much more than it is a religious one.
The more worrying part is of Dasain's over-commercialisation and the celebration of the hollow rituals of an ersatz civilisation. All this is especially glaring when inflation, lack of development, economic woes, and political uncertainty weigh upon the populace, and Dasain takes on a desperate, escapist edge. More than at any other time, Dasain brings into sharp focus the widening gap between the rich and poor in our country, the way conspicuous consumption and widespread destitution exist side-by-side.
The first target in the list of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals calls on countries to halve absolute poverty and hunger by 2015. Poverty is said to have gone down in Nepal, and 'only' one-third of the people are living below the survival threshold of $1.25 a day. This result seems to be based on a calculation that simply divides annual remittances estimates with the total population, and masks the fact that in large parts of the country the poor remain desperately poor.
The Dasain revelry, the wining, dining, and wasting of money and food, may be a good time to reflect on this gap. Call us spoilsports, but such fun and merriment are obscene when more than half the children in this country go to bed hungry at night, even in Dasain. Many of them are physically and mentally stunted because their daily calorie intake is less than the required minimum. One-third of the districts in Nepal are food-deficit, 80 per cent of the people in areas like the western Tarai and mountains are chronically hungry. (Read: Food for thought this Dasain)
During the 1996-2006 conflict, people looked forward to the Dasain ceasefire, a temporary respite from violence and brutality which the warring sides used to regroup, re-arm, and rest before they started killing each other again. Those memories are fading, only to be replaced by disillusionment with our untrustworthy and hypocritical leaders, as well as a sense of hopelessness and foreboding about the future. The economy is in tatters, and the sharp increase in prices, especially of essential food items, means that a majority are in no mood to celebrate.
The economic woes are linked directly with deadlocked politics. The trinity of high priests that have taken it upon themselves to command our destiny has proven itself incapable of thinking beyond tactical moves to outsmart rivals within their own parties, or in other parties. The calculation is all about preventing elections at all costs, even by restoring the Constituent Assembly, which is creating strange bedfellows with the Maoist hierarchy in a mysterious agreement with the rightwing of the Nepali Congress. And when the ceremonial president, in reflecting the general public anxiety, cautiously reminds the top leaders to get their act together, the prime minister responds with a strong public rebuke.
Nepal has only nuisance value left among the international community and in the two capitals of our big neighbours there is growing concern and anxiety about the instability unleashed by our feckless, reckless rulers. The reason foreigners interfere so much here is because most of our politicians are such serial delinquents. You can be sure that the bargaining behind closed doors over Dasain will not be about protecting national interest, but about carving up what's left of the country. And there will not be an agreement because it is a zero-sum game for the players.
A big portion of the blame must go to the Maoists, and their chairman. Being the largest party in the last election, it was their responsibility to deliver. But they keep changing the rules of the game and Pushpa Kamal Dahal's double tongue has become so legendary that cartoonists are having a field day. The NC and UML, however, have no fresh new ideas and their leaders lack charisma, vision, and leadership.
For long-suffering Nepalis, the peace dividend evaporated long ago. It has been replaced by great disenchantment and disappointment. What keeps Nepal afloat is the individual resilience and the capacity of Nepalis to endure pain and hunger. We have long given up expecting anything from our rulers and when they don't deliver, we aren't that surprised.
For this Dasain, we can only hope that the private wish for the public good of all Nepalis in Nepal and across the world will soon become a reality.
Food for thought this Dasain, SCOTT FAIIA
More than 80 per cent of people in parts of Nepal do not have enough to eat
The past foretold, ANURAG ACHARYA
The parties may strike a deal by the end of this month to revive the CA, but that won't solve anything