Writes: Sumiran Ghalay Gurung
"Om Bhur Bhuwasya Tatsha Witur Warenyam Bhargo Devashya Dhimahi Dhiyoyona Prachodayat"... The famous "Gayatri Mantra" we heard during 90s and early 2000s at Chowrasta, the famous public hub at Darjeeling.
I still recall how we used to impatiently wait for the Dussehra vacations to begin as it was not only the most sought after and longest holiday but also because it meant celebrations, blessings, food and "dakshina" from the elders.
For all those who aren't from Darjeeling, I will try and give a glimpse of how Dussehra or "Dashain" as we Nepalese call it used to celebrate it back in the days.
As soon as October starts the monsoon starts receding in the hills and the sun starts to shine with all its might (not to worry as it's a hill station and it's never to hot. Even in summers you need to carry either a jacket or a pullover). We have the "Saipatri" (marigold) and other flowers blooming and the whole town is engulfed with an overwhelming festive atmosphere.
When we were kids we used to buy new clothes for "Dashain", as everybody wanted to look their best. Then once the Navaratri started, we used to head for Chowrasta, as everyone from the town flocked there, the elders to receive blessings from the huge idol of Durga Goddess placed at the altar, the kids to play balloons (being the notorious one, we use to burst 'em often resulting in the kids crying and us fleeing the scene not to be beaten by the kids guardian or parents).
We as teenagers used to go there to "season khelnu, chiksing", literally meaning to check out beautiful girls or just casual flirting. Well, we used to be pretty drunk before that as dashain for us youngsters was incomplete without a little intoxication. Thanks to the local pubs "Washington", "Soaltee", "Buzz", "Joey's Pub", "New Dish", when we had cash and "Uchhyang", "Palas", "Dikila" when we were broke. Yeah, most of the girls we approached either ran away or said they were engaged, in a relationship. We knew it was an alibi for them to just do away with it, but it was fun anyway. But if someone agreed then from the next day, we were sober and spent most of the time with the girl (Pehla pyar ka nasha), It couldn't be called a date as we were either accompanied by friends either from the guys side or the girls. We always had the "masu ma haddi" (bone in the meat) or "phool ma kada" (the thorn in the flower) material, but we never blamed them. I still remember going for double, triple or even quadruple dates. Relax people, I didn't mean I was out with 2 - 3 girls. It was a joint date with other couples joining in.
At our "Gaon" (village), we used to play "Housie" (Bingo), which is a number calling game and if someone crossed out all the numbers either in the lines or the house, we used to hear a "Yes", which meant the game is won and others used to be like, "Ghanta, ewtai number matrai thyo new" (Damn, I just had one number left). Then we had "Jhandi - Makut" Dice (anymore?), which is a game played with six cubes having a flag (Jhandi), a crown (makut), a spade (bhotay), a heart (pana), a club (chidi) and a diamond (ita) on its six sides. We used to place our bets on a board which had the pictures of all the above mentioned signs and depending upon the number of signs the bet used to be doubled, tripled and so on. We also played cards; "Flash" (3 cards), "Rummy", "Hazare" (the first one to reach the one thousand point wins) etc.
Traditional gambling was permitted by the elders, but it hardly mattered who won, we used to hang around together and the one who has won the most ended up spending even more than that.
As Dashain approached, we had "Ful - Pati", (literally meaning flower and leaves), which was characterized by processions from various ethnic groups, the gurungs, mangars, tamangs, rais, subbas, bhutias etc. Later we had programs in our respective villages, where we had traditional dances, songs, performances of various kinds. I remember performing in one or two occasions although it might have been really hard for the audience to digest the whole thing.Then as "Maar" (festival where a buffalo and goats are sacrificed) approached, we used to head for the "Dali" ground as early as 7 in the morning, because if we were late we didn't get to see the sacrifice.
Finally the most awaited day arrived. Early morning, our elders woke us up and asked us to get ready as it would soon be time for the "Tika" (we use rice, curd and some colour for it). When we were kids, we were hardly concerned about the tika but the monetary blessing, (dakshina) would be much awaited. Once the whole thing was over, we used to get together and have food together which contained delicacies like "khukra ko masu" (chicken), selroti (traditional bread) etc. Then we met our friends and headed for the local pubs and hang around the town gambling with our drunk heads. The days that followed, used to be a repetitive cycle with us visiting our relatives, eating, gambling and drinking.
Dashain was so much fun back in the days. Now far away from home, I realize how much I miss those times. Times have changed and so has the tradition.
"Time and tide wait for none", but once just once I still wish I could go back and celebrate it the way we used to... Just a Wish!!
[Pic: Aanjup Lama]