Typically, Dashain each year is about fun, family and friends for me. Eating sel, hanging out with large and small groups, playing card games, eating good food, hustling for tika and jamara, unwinding, and having fun meant Dashain for me. If you are a Nepali, lived in Nepal or grew up in a Nepali household or influence elsewhere, chances are some of the above ring a bell for you. This year, just like everything else, there is nothing “typical” about Dashain either.
Regardless of your experience or interest in the religious aspects of Dashain, the holiday roots its origin to the idea of triumph. Specifically, Dashain is about a metaphorical or actual (depending on your belief) nine-day battle between Durga, the divine, and Mahishasur, the devil. This triumph has resulted in hundreds of thousands of years of regional interpretations and practices. Whether you adhere to the theology or not, chances are you will not argue about that this time of the year has a connotation of fun, family and friends in the Nepali diaspora.
This year, for me, Dashain has been about understanding the roots behind the rituals, the idea about “triumph,” introspection and pondering about the links I see between the metaphorical Mahishasur and Covid-19. In March 2020, if you asked me about the number of times Covid-19 or coronavirus would come up in my conversations, I could not tell you. Seven months later, I have lost track and I still cannot tell you. What I can tell you is what science says, we need to maintain social distance, we need to wear a mask, we need to be in well-ventilated areas should we meet people, and, more importantly, we need to be responsible with following facts over anything else.
The reality is that if you are pondering whether or not you should observe Dashain in any x, y, z form, chances are you are not worrying about food on the table or shelter over your head. Being irresponsible with our choices not only puts the vulnerable ones in our social circle at risk but also the ones who are already at the peak of their economic vulnerability at further risk. As someone living in Kathmandu, I think it is important for me to be in sync with facts in my community. It is a fact that Kathmandu hospitals can only take care of 195 Covid-19 patients in ICUs and there are 88 ventilators available for these patients. But, the number of cases is increasing, mostly in Kathmandu, as the Ministry of Health and Population updates every day.
Although Durga Bhawani was able to beat Mahishasur in nine days, nine months into the pandemic, the world including Nepal is not being able to contain the virus. The coronavirus is not limited to one religious group or another; it is not limited to one economic class or another; it is not limited to one age group or another; it is not limited to any one specific thing. Just like the limitless nature of the coronavirus, let us use this time to unleash the limitless nature of the human mind.
Let us draw from the metaphor of the “triumph” of Durga over Mahishasur, and let us unleash the Durga within us and empower ourselves to make smart choices. Each one of us has the power to change the course of the virus. Distinguish between essential and non-essential. We have to go to work, we have to provide for our family, if our budget permits, we can even support local businesses and ones in need. But, what we cannot and should not choose to do is to overburden the frontline heroes of this pandemic, the ones that are tirelessly working to make up for the lapse of judgement each one of us might have.
The common Dashain rhyme goes, “Dashain aayo, Khaunla pyunla, Kaha paaunla, Chori Lyaunla, Dhat papi ma chhuttai basaunla.” Papi or not, stay chhuttai this time, stay safe. Unleash the metaphorical Durga within you and empower yourself to “triumph” over Covid-19, the Mahishasur of today. Today, “Dashain aaeko chhaina” we have yet to “triumph” over this and guess what, this is something we can only “triumph” over by using our individual power for collective good. Once Dashain comes, we can go back to our “typical” customs/rituals/traditions that involve fun, family and friends.