The thing about Dasain is that I’m never good enough for it.
When I was a child, I wasn’t good enough because I was a girl. It meant I could not participate in certain rituals by the virtue of being female.
Over the years, I learned to make peace with it. Rituals were not my thing, anyway.
One Dasain, after the main practice of sacrificing the gourd, painted as the demon Mahishasur was over, my sister picked the khadga dagger handed down from our Malla ancestors, and started to slice the gourd. It riled the male guardians in the clan. My sister tried to argue that it is after all the goddess who kills the demon, and the goddess is female. Not like her argument would work.
After that, the age-old practice of impaling the gourd in our clan met a sudden end — causing our strand of the Tuladhar men to disperse into nuclear family Dasain celebrations.
While my childhood memory of Dasain, or Mohni as the Newa people call it, has always been about the Tika big day (this year on Wednesday) when the men came together to perform the violent act against a painted gourd, the festival has changed over the years. Some of those changes are very welcome, including the one that put an end to the simulation of violence performed by certain Buddhist Newa families in Kathmandu.
Growing up, I also experienced discrimination shared by some of my cousins, who were not allowed the tika by certain relatives because they were not Buddhist. But wasn’t Dasain a Hindu event in itself? I never understood that. And while I stood on the other side of the line where I was allowed tika, their sense of humiliation for being refused the blessing was mine, too. We were children together.
Over the years, I also learned to stage fake periods when I did not want to receive tika. And while isolation during period is something my family has never observed, I still have mood swings the moment I see the tika tray.
Lately, they remind me of the Asur people in certain parts of India, who mourn their dead during Dasain. But the tika is also sticky and leaves a mark on my forehead, reminding me that I have the privilege of it because I was born in a certain family.
Also, for women, neither having or not having your period during Dasain is a privilege. Either way, it means you spend the festival running household chores or being banished for bleeding. All things become tied to birth eventually—who you were born to, where and how—your gender, your sexual orientation, your religion, your civil status and your social station in life, to mention a few. They make that everything about you. In this case, they is Dasain and Dasain is they.
Once upon a time, I worked in a newsroom. The country was declared secular and we stopped calling Dasain the biggest festival celebrated by Nepalis. We started writing: the biggest festival celebrated by Hindus in Nepal. But every other day, one person would change it back. All Nepalis are Hindu by default, he would say. How? I would ask. And he would say: it is just how it is. In my head, I would say: It is just how a newsroom you lead is. Closed to everyone who is not you.
Over the years, Dasain has kept finding new ways to defeat me. When it discovered that I am a woman without a man, it naturally relegated me to the lower-station of social life. You need a husband to do certain things in the society that calls me its own. Doesn’t matter that this time of the year is about a woman who rides on a ferocious animal and is independent.
I have met Dasain with an entirely new fear recently, because it’s given me fresh reasons for disdain. It tells me I’m not good enough. My hair is greying, and fast. Dasain wants me to discover hair colour. I’m told my cousins who are in their 50s “upstage” me in looks and it is why I will never “find a husband”. I’m also being told I’m too conservative in how I dress and in the topics I like to discuss. And so, I’m too conservative for this festival.
It is never going to be good enough for Dasain that I’ve learned to play kitty to entertain my nonagenarian grandfather. Not good enough, that I let the spindle reel against my thumb, flying a kite with my nephews and my brothers.
Dasain is often a reminder that singlehood is not even a concept available to one and that we must make the choice of finding a partner. It doesn’t matter that the partner might have been someone who slammed the door on your face or held you to the ground by your hair, or spent his entire time watching pornography on his phone while you sat up in bed wondering. But you must have a partner because that’s what is acceptable to Dasain.
I’m never going to be good for Dasain. And that, is just fine.
Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.