When the day is done, I sit and count my money. There are cracked bills and dirty coins, pulled eagerly from plain white envelopes, marked with red fingerprints.
I pull off my dhaka topi and loosen the strings on my suruwal. My coat, I take off, the daura underneath creased and crumpled.
We have goat curry for dinner, seasoned and fragrant, topped with coriander. There is rice and potatoes and dal and whiskey for my grandfather. Throughout the day, there has been a lot of beaten rice and meat, soft drinks on the side, mainly Fanta. I abstain.
My mother wears a sari, a muted yellow chiffon piece that loses colour around the bright red silk pieces that everyone else is wearing. Whenever she bows her head for tika, they raise fingerfulls of red and each time, she gently dissuades them, pointing to the yellow. And some chuckle, embarrassed, while others cluck sympathetically, remembering.
My grandmother is sprightly and small. She doesn’t weigh more than 35kg but she’s strong. She rarely gets sick and is always walking. She bows her head to very few these days, as others get older, so does she.
My brother is the teenager, a rebel in the same way I once was. He refuses the daura-suruwal and always folds his dhaka topi into his coat pocket. All his envelope money, he keeps in the other coat pocket.
We travel in packs, dressed in finery. The streets are empty, populated only by taxis who can’t afford to miss a day of work and revelers speeding to and fro in their own vehicles. A bike will pass by, balancing a child on the tank, the husband driving, the wife off to one side at the back and another child in between. Or a bus will pass, filled with boys, jamara behind their ears and their foreheads smeared with tika. The women are the same. They sing songs out of bus windows, calling on this dead city to celebrate with him, to shake off his gloom and join the festival. After all, it only comes once a year.
I follow my mother from house to house, trailing her like the children we are. We visit many houses, not bothering to knock or ring bells. We walk in, for on Dasain, we’re all invited, everywhere. We saunter in, exclaim over each other and eat the food that is presented to us.
How tall he’s become!
He’s too skinny!
Dasain seems to arrive too fast these days!
You look lovely!
But You are fat. You are hateful. You only pretend to like me. You don’t care.
Lately, I forget when Dasain is. Without a bhitte patro to tell me of the holidays, I fall into some limbo where I don’t care for Christmas or Thanksgiving and I don’t know of Dasain or Tihar.
I wake up, go to class, go to work.
My parents, my brother, my grandparents, all get dressed early, showering first. Grandmother fixes a silver star to her sari, grandfather puts on a new topi he wants to show off, mother has a new hairdo and brother fixes a gold khukuri to his lapel.
And then they stand in line, head bowed, eyes downward, forehead clean, empty. The first splotch of tika is a mark of belonging, of kinship, of tradition, of culture and of love.