How Nepalis scattered across the world celebrate Dashain

6 min read
15 Sep 2017
6 min read
3781 words
In this collection of vignettes, VMAG present the stories of how Nepalis scattered across the world celebrate Dashain

In this collection of vignettes, VMAG presents the stories of how Nepalis scattered across the world celebrate Dashain. The celebrations are informed by many constraints and variables: the place the Nepalis have found themselves working in; the presence, or lack, of a larger community in that place, and the socio-economic strata that the Nepali migrants are a part of in these new societies. But whatever the new station of life they now occupy, every Dashain these Nepalis think of reconnecting with their roots in whatever way they can.

Dashain in the Middle East

Anish Nainabasti, UAE
Anish Nainabasti, aged 31, from Sano Kumal Gaun, Lamjung, has been working at Al Khalidiah Resort, Sharjah, UAE, for the past two years. Among the many hundreds of staff who work at the resort, all of different nationalities, there are only four Nepalis, all of whom are security guards—two of them are from Chitwan and two from Lamjung.

“We get a one-day holiday during Eid, but because we want to celebrate Dashain, we talked to our boss and we are now allowed one day off on Tika, to celebrate the festival,” says Nainabasti. “For us, celebrating Dashain is more like celebrating a day off. We don’t put on tika because we don’t know where we can go to buy the abir, and we don’t really want to spend our off day looking for colours. Since it’s just the four of us here, we can’t afford an entire goat. But we do buy four to five kgs of mutton and prepare a small feast for ourselves. We then go out and enjoy our day off, call our families back in Nepal.” 

Nainabasti, the eldest son in his family, came to the Gulf right after his marriage. He had to leave his wife and his newborn son because he couldn’t pass up the opportunity, when it came, to work in the UAE. “I have nine members in my family: two mothers, a father, my wife, my son, my brother, his wife and daughter, and a sister. Working so far away from home, is tough. And although my friends and I do celebrate on Dashain, the day shows us ever more starkly how much we miss home.”

Rajendra Parajuli, Qatar
Rajendra Parajuli, aged 41, went to work in Qatar back in 2010. “It’s been seven years that I have been working here as a security guard,” he says. Parajuli has never taken a day off in the seven years he’s worked in Qatar, because he can’t afford to. Taking a day off means a reduction in his wages. Even if he does take a day off during Durga Puja, he has no one to spend the day with. “There are only a few Nepalis near where I work, and it’s really difficult to meet them because everyone has different work shifts,” he says. Parajuli does try his best to head back home every two years during Dashain, to celebrate the festival with his family. But the years he’s away from home, Dashain is merely like any other day at work for him. “Dashains are lonely here. I didn’t have any contact with my family as well. But from last year, during Dashain, I call my mother and receive blessings from her. And I talk to my sisters, my wife and my two kids. It gives me some relief.”

Pradeep Bagale, Qatar
Bagale, aged 37, from Tanahun works at the Royal Qatar Hotel, Doha, Qatar. Bagale works as a supervisor of the hotel’s housekeeping department. Dashain for him, and his Nepali flatmates, means just a dinner of rice and rich mutton curry—and the dinner is only attended by those who are done with their duties for the day and have the energy to take part in the get-together after having worked three shifts. “We don’t have the luxury of time to spend Dashain the way we used to back home. We don’t have the time to go out and buy tika. You don’t see anyone wearing tika here. Dashain is celebrated quietly behind closed doors, just among friends,”  says Bagale. 

Dashain far away from Bara

Raj Kumar Agrahari came to Kathmandu in 1992. A young man from a small village in Bara, all Agrahari wanted when he came to the capital was to make enough money to sustain his family; little did he know that Kathmandu would eventually come to become his second home and that he would be the owner of a very successful paan shop—on the Kathmandu side of the Bagmati Bridge that connects Lalitpur to Kathmandu.

In the 25 years that he’s been here, Agrahari has been focusing on only his shop, ‘Rajdhani ko Shaan: Raj Kumar Paan’. He’s seen no reason to work on other ventures, and business is so good at his shop, he has even roped in one of his sons, Aryan, to help him run the show. Father and son take turns manning the shop, which is open, every day, from as early as 6 am to as late as 9:30 pm, sometimes even 10. Agrahari doesn’t really recall the last time he took a day off, and his shop is one of the few paan shops in town that are open even during festivals, even during Dashain.

“Actually, there isn’t much business during Dashain. Because it’s like everyone goes back home to wherever they come from. But we stay here because our nuclear family is a tight-knit family and being with one another is enough. We don’t have cousins in the city, but every few years, especially during Chhath, we go home to Bara, where our cousins and other relatives live,” says Agrahari.

“During the weeks of Dashain, we also close our shop a little early in the evenings, so that all of us in our family, can go around the city—my wife, me and our three children,” he says. “I especially like taking in the city during Dashain because the city seems so serene, with the streets being virtually empty.” Agrahari fasts every day during the first nine days of Dashain because that’s what Marwaris like us are supposed to do, he says. He only eats two modest meals of fruits and milk a day. He then breaks his fast with a vegetarian meal on the tenth day, after Durga Puja. “We offer animal sacrifices to Goddess Durga on the eighth day, but we consume meat and fish only after the 10 days are over,” he says. “Some of my Marwari friends, who will not be performing Durga Puja, on the tenth day, however, can enjoy a non-vegetarian meal after the sacrifice.”

On Durga Puja, the Agrahari family visit the Marwadi Sewa Samiti at Phasikyaba Marg—where an elaborate puja is organised every year, along with bhajans. This is followed by a feast. “The puja is like a community get-together. We, as a family, go to the temple from Saptami. But we know many people who visit the samiti all 10 days of Dashain. On the tenth day, the lines there are so long that we have to queue for two-three hours to receive tika, jamara and prasad from a priest,” he says.

“Festivals are a time for families to get together. And Dashain gives us the time to be together in a manner that is sort of different from how we interact during the more hectic days the rest of the year. Of course it would be nice to go home, to Bara, during this time, but it’s not so bad here. Kathmandu is home now,” says Agrahari.

Family is all (Reading, the UK)

The season around Dashain in London can seem as gloomy as the city itself for Nau Gurung. But for the ex-British Gurkha, mid-autumn also means festival time in which to get together with his relatives and friends for rounds of drinks and good food—an indulgence their busy schedule rarely allows them the luxury of. 

“Except for Dashain, everyone’s busy with their own lives, going about their own business,” says Gurung, who has been working as a security officer in Central London for the past five years.

Gurung made his way to England after having lived in other places. After serving as a British Gurkha soldier for almost 20 years, he went to work for Brunei’s royal family, in the Gurkha Reserve Unit, where he served for another 12 years. Since Gurung had retired from the British Army prior to 1987, he was initially not granted a settlement visa in the UK. But after a prolonged campaign, Gurkhas like him were eventually allowed to settle in England. When the Gurkhas won their case, Gurung was working in Japan, along with his wife and eldest son. Upon hearing about how he would now be allowed to live in the UK, Gurung immediately left for Nepal, and then came to the UK in 2009. 

“It was all for my kids and family. I have three sons, and seeing how people made a good living for themselves here, I decided to settle here as well,” says Gurung. Two of his sons are now working in London. One of them lives with Gurung. Many of his relatives had settled in the country long before Gurung even came here. “Dashain for us is all about being together. We don’t put tika, like many other families though. For some reason, we never did. But drinks and food must flow freely, and the card games must continue for a day and a night and even through the following morning,” he says. 

Gurung shares his house, in Reading, with another tenant, whom he calls his didi. She and his family have lived as a family now. The woman is a widow of an ex-British Gurkha soldier, and gets by on state benefits and government pension. During Dashain, the didi—who prepares the everyday meals for the Gurung family—prepares special dishes. “Sometimes you form a bond of kinship with people with whom you have no blood relations at all. And during Dashain, we celebrate all these special bonds,” says Gurung.

During Dashain, the Nepali population in London, Reading and other cities always make it a point to host large cultural events that are attended by many families.  Gurung, however, seldom goes to such events, unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. For him, it’s all about spending the special day with his special circle of nearest and dearest ones.  

Dashain in Hong Kong

By Soyena Dhakal

My family has been living in Hong Kong for the past 20 years now. I don’t remember the last time I came to Nepal during the Dashain holidays, but Dashain in Nepal is not something I don’t miss, either. For in Hong Kong, Nepalis celebrate the festival with as much enthusiasm as they would back in the home country. 

Most Nepalis ask for at least one day off from work to make sure that we can celebrate Dashain together. For Nepalis in Hong Kong, Dashain has become not just a festival that’s celebrated among family members but a time for larger number of Nepalis to come together and celebrate the culture that links us all together.

The festivals do start at home, though. Families first perform the ritual of thoroughly cleaning their house before performing a small puja. Most families even grow small patches of jamara at their homes on Ghatasthapana. Many start the day of Tika by putting tika at home with their immediate family first, and then go to other cousins’ houses to receive tika. And feasting, later on in the day, makes for an inevitable part of the celebration. But because there is no practice of animal sacrifices, the Nepalis here resort to buying store-sold mutton, which then becomes the central dish of the feast. 

During Dashain, many of us proudly walk Hong Kong’s streets, with tika on our forehead and garlands around our neck. There are also many Nepali organisations that set up grand celebrations for the occasion, and many Nepalis show up for these shows dressed in all their Nepali finery. There are always these parties that are organised, where all Nepalis come together and have a small programme, some music and a picnic, a lunch or a BBQ.
Of course, those who can afford the time do take trips to Nepal during Dashain. But because I am a student, I don’t really have any holidays. But there are many people, like my parents too, who take a week or so off and go to Nepal, because that’s the only time of the year when they get to see their families back home in Nepal. 

What I miss the most about Dashain, as is probably the case with so many other Nepalis who are settled abroad, is my grandparents. My grandparents are in Nepal, and during Dashain I do feel the pangs of separation from them particularly severely. But because the large number of Nepalis in Hong Kong, I do feel we have created a bit of Nepal here for ourselves and during Dashain we especially feel thankful to be part of the Nepali population here.

Dashain Dallas Style

Celebrations in the greater Dallas area
In Richardson, North Dallas, USA, where Anoj KC lives and works, preparations for Dashain start well ahead of Tika. All the Nepalis settled in Dallas have arrangements to be made—getting leave from work, shopping for the required puja items, doing the groundwork for organising parties and gatherings, checking the events list for cultural shows. Business owners shut down their gas stations and shops early on the big day and hurry back for a round of marriage or flush. 

For the first generation of Nepalis who settled in Dallas, finding the essentials needed to conduct festivities used to be a challenge. Many families would actually ask relatives travelling to and from Nepal to bring along the puja items. But today, Dallas has quite a few Nepali and Indian stores that sell everything from groceries to Nepali food items to any kind of puja necessities. That wasn’t the case when KC first came to the US to pursue his degree. 

“Back in 2006, when I first came to Dallas, we only knew of one Nepali store, in Irving. The items we needed for Dashain pujas were very expensive, so we made do with whatever we had at our disposal,” says KC. Now, there are four Indian grocery stores in Dallas that KC frequents, all just a 10-minute drive away. He and other Nepalis in the city can even buy goats in nearby farms.
In the early 2000s, those Nepalis in Dallas who had the means would fly back home every few years to celebrate Dashain. But these days, it’s usually the parents and siblings of Dallas’s Nepalis who fly across the world for a family reunion. “As for me, because many of my family members, including my father and cousins, also live here, I haven’t gone back for quite a while,” says KC.

Today, there are thousands of Nepalis living in the Dallas area, and Texas’s various Nepali associations host huge events every Dashain. The Nepalese Society of Texas organise cultural dance shows and food festivals and feature performances by renowned Nepali artists who are flown in from Nepal for the occasion. Dashain is also when The Khasi Cup soccer tournament is held, and the home teams, Dallas Gurkhas and the Everest Soccer Team, take this opportunity to pit themselves against Nepali teams from other states.

Most Dallas Dashain events are usually attended by non-Nepali acquaintances as well. Because many co-workers of Nepalis have become familiar with Dashain, it has become easier for Nepalis to get time off from work during the festive season. “We work with people from different religious backgrounds who also have their own festivals, and we thus fill in for each other’s shifts during such occasions.” 

Obviously, the Dashain celebrations in Dallas don’t take place over days, as is the case in Nepal. But celebrate Dashain the Nepali here must—every year. “I haven’t missed Dashain celebrations ever,” says KC. 

Dashain blues

It was a fine day in spring 2016 when Karim Rana landed in the land of opportunities. Everything outside JFK International Airport, New York, seemed all glittery and golden. But by time he arrived at Pittsburg, where his college was, he was starting to understand things would be difficult for him in the Rust Belt city. Even celebrating Dashain. He was too busy trying to survive to celebrate Dashain properly.

During his second semester, Rana transferred to a college in Farmer Ranch, Dallas, and is now in his fourth semester. His childhood friend (along with four other Nepali freshmen) was studying and living in the Dallas area, and his friend had asked Rana to join them. Today, the six friends share an apartment together.

“America is nothing like I imagined it to be. It just appears fancier than it really is—in the descriptions of Nepalis who are now successful and established here,” says Rana. “For students like me, with average grades, and for whom scholarship is a far-off dream, we survive by working more than 20 hours a week.” Before he left Nepal, Rana had never cooked anything in his life. But a few months away from home and necessity had turned Rana into pretty good cook. Cooking is one of the few joys that Rana likes to indulge in. But he says he can’t really pull off the dishes he misses from back home, especially Pulchowk’s jhol momo. He misses them even more during festival time. Rana and his friends don’t usually attend the gatherings and events that Nepalis organise in the Dallas area. He says there’s nothing much to look forward to at such events for youngsters like them. 

Last Dashain, they decided to do their own thing. There were three other Nepali seniors who lived in an apartment near Rana’s neighbourhood. So the nine of them got together and celebrated Dashain like any good family would—putting on tika, enjoying good food, drinks and lots of mutton. “The seniors were the only grownups we knew in Dallas. The gather was good, and made for a far better time than sitting around sulking and complaining about how everyone else was having a better time than us.” To enliven the celebration, the lot even got a 50-pound goat from a farm at Fort Worth. It was Rana who suggested the idea. 

That Dashain finally made for a well-earned break for Rana from his hectic days with school and work. “I work as a clerk at a gas station. The owner is a Nepali, and I earn 9.50 an hour. So it’s not actually as bad as I sometimes make it seem,” he says. All his flatmates too work at the other gas stations owned by the same owner. “Working in the gas station is a much better deal for me. Earlier, I used to work as a server at a Korean restaurant,” he says. “All the dishes looked the same to me, and I could never remember their names.” He quit after his first week.

This year, Rana and his flatmates plan to visit Louisiana for Dashain—because that’s where the three seniors they celebrated Dashain with earlier have transferred to. After all they share the bond of their first Dashain together in this alien nation. “Since I’ll be covering my co-worker’s shift, while he visits his cousin in Houston, he’s said he’ll fill in for me this Dashain. It’s going to be a great holiday.”