Monday, 27 May, 2024
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OPINION

The Golden Week Of Dashain Holidays



Kamal Parajuli

Dashain, the biggest festival of Nepalis. Though the most sacred day is Bijayadashami, the festival starts from Ghatasthapana nine days prior – the day after new moon. As it is about receiving tika and blessings not only from one’s parents but also from all other senior relatives, the ceremony drags on till full moon. It, thus traces half phase of moon which is normally fifteen days.
A long line of buses with passengers seated on the roof is a fascinating sight during this time, if not safe. The exodus has become an annual phenomenon as it is believed 75 per cent of Kathmandu valley populations are outsiders.


Dashain holidays which once were nine days long have been truncated to five. I agree, Nepal comprises of multitude of ethnic races and not everyone assign the same importance to Dashain. Even the Constitution of Nepal, 2072 BS has acknowledged the diversity and promised to treat everyone equally irrespective of race and religion. Then one might assume the eliminated holidays were assigned to ethnic festivals to level privilege. No, they were not. Festival holidays, instead, were reduced to 15 in 2076 BS from 32 in 2074 BS with ethnic celebrations taking the brunt.


At first glance, 32 holidays for festivals look a tad too much. However, developed countries practice two-day weekend and that amounts to 104 days off. Besides, there are 10 public ones in the US which adds to 114 holidays. Back here, even if you assume Friday to be half-holiday, weekends stand at 78 days. Add 15 public holidays; you only get 91 days off. But, as record for how much people work is kept in hours and not days, number of days off is moot. In Nepal, it is 10 AM to 5 PM or seven hours on Sunday to Thursday and 10 AM to 3 PM or five hours on Friday. That makes 40-hour week like in any western country. But, it limits public holidays to 10 to match annual hours-worked. This must have played a key role in government slashing holidays. But, in a changing global economic landscape it is overkill.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is cannibalising jobs with repeated tasks or routine procedures. Worryingly, most jobs are like that. Even diagnosis is better performed by AI which can feed symptoms into system and tally it against patient’s and her family’s medical history. Only artistic, creative and sophisticated jobs stand any chance of survival. Well, whether you like it or not, Instagramming is one.


Now coming back to the ramification of clipped Dashain holidays, how many times do temporary residents of Kathmandu get to visit their homes? Roads are patchy and routes treacherous. Even travel to closest districts like Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot, Dhading and Rasuwa takes four hours at the least. If one has to walk further – a whole day. Assign a day for the return trip. Long Dashain holidays provided an opportunity for many to meet their ailing parents and reconnect with their roots. But, three days of net holidays has dampened the spirit for many to embark on the journey. When the world is learning to travel we are, instead, stifling it. Besides, shortened holiday is taking off the charm of the festival and smothering native culture and religion. Contrast that with China which has started acknowledging the importance of folk religions.


Being landlocked and mountainous have us living insularly for years. It has constricted our scope and calcified our disposition. This shortcoming can only be redressed with encouraging people to visit new places and face different cultures. Foreign travel would be better if not for limited foreign exchequer Nepal has. However, domestic one is a good alternative and a sure-shot way to boost consumption. Though it already makes up around 70 per cent of GDP, it is because of expenditures on imported industrial junks like chips and sugar-laced juice. Shifting it to domestic services keep money within economy and spur local job market.


‘Invest in experiences not things’ is the new go-to adage. Nepalis travelling to Khaptad not only get to experience mesmerising spectacle but also end up generating jobs for fellow Nepalis. Further, the cultural exchange enlightens both parties. It is imperative for all to realise there is diversity within Nepal, be it language or culture. Kathmandu residents armed with gadgets and access to virtual world rave about beauty of Switzerland but are oblivious of Daman which is just 3 hours drive away. The ignorance has to be exorcised.


One can look to China for inspiration. It just celebrated National Day golden week with holidays running from 1st to 7th of October. Manufacturing plants were shut and schools were closed. In fact, it is third such week this year with two others being lunar New Year and Labour Day. These golden weeks are designed to give fillip to tourism and facilitate long-distance family visits.


Nepal is a motley mix of ethnic races and cultures. However, a nation cannot be just a strip of geography with disparate groups and disgruntled citizens. There has to be some shared values that keep them together. Two things binding Nepalis were religion and language. Religion has been ripped apart. Language is being tinkered with. But, holidays, the basic requirement of modern-day economies could be an additional layer of shared delight bringing all Nepalis together. Extending Dashain holidays along China’s golden week is the easiest option.


Making Friday a full working day adds 104 annual hours providing leeway to declare few extra holidays. For some the extended holidays would be religious affairs, while for others it would be a time to savour natural beauty of Nepal. Besides, it will also give temporary residents of Kathmandu a chance to visit their homes irrespective of their religions. Cheers, autumn guarantees a fabulous weather. Travel and instagram. Happy Dashain; happy holidays.

(Parajuli works with Himalayan Bank Limited and can be reached at kamal.parajuli@himalayanbank.com)