OCT 26 – Much to my mother’s chagrin, I couldn’t make it home to Pokhara this Dashain. But I wasn’t alone. Most journalists like me working in broadcast media don’t get an actual break during Dashain, or any other festival for that matter. Although newspapers do remain closed for a few days, it is not the case with television or radio—schedules are, in fact, even more hectic then. Media houses generally prioritise those employees who are either newly married or those who didn’t get to take time off in the previous year. So it is that hundreds of professionals like me were working this Dashain too, and missing out on getting to celebrate the holidays with our loved ones.
Laxmi Prasad Pokharel, a journalist with Avenues TV, for instance, was reporting on Dashami—the veritable crux of the entire festival. “I couldn’t go home,” he says. “Instead we received tika from senior staff members at the office itself.”
The media, of course, is only one among many other spheres that require personnel to remain on duty during the festival. “It’s not the best feeling to know that your family and friends are having a good time without you,” says Prasna Niraula, a nurse at the Shahid Gangalal National Heart Centre. “But we need to remember that we have important jobs and focus on that instead of feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Similarly, Juna Thapa, a 23-year-old employee at United School in Satdobato, didn’t get to visit her home in Illam this year because her work resumes on Sunday, and she wasn’t sure she would be able to get return tickets in time. “Even though I really did want to go, I decided it was best not to risk it,” Thapa says. But she adds that she isn’t entirely sorry about staying. “It’s a good time to be in the city; the usually chaotic traffic winds down and it’s really pleasant to just walk around the clean, empty roads—I wish Kathmandu was always like this.”
For Basudev Hengaju, the fire commander at the Juddha Barun Yatra, work didn’t stop for the festival either, but he finds it best to look at things philosophically. “Fire isn’t something you can predict or put off,” he says. “And when your job is to save lives, you can’t take that lightly, or feel bad about not getting to do what everyone else does.” Hengaju has been working as a firefighter for nearly three decades, and says he has missed more Dashains than he would cares to remember. “It’s gotten to the point where we don’t even whine anymore, instead we try to have a good time at the station itself with other firefighters, because we’re all in the same boat in the end.” A consolation, Hengaju says, is in the fact that there were no major fires in the city this time around. “I can only pray Tihar will be the same,” he says.
Constable of the Armed Police Force at Nirmal Niwas, Narayan Shrestha, on the other hand, wishes he could’ve gone home to Sindhupalchowk for a short visit, which unfortunately couldn’t happen this Dashain. “It used to be pretty exciting to be working a couple of years ago when people would be lined up in hoards to get tika from the King, but its quieted down in that regard these days,” he says.
While the rest of the country gears up for the festivities, for feasts and card games, drinking rounds and general revelry, a host of people—whether security or medical personnel, journalists like myself or firefighters—do not get to indulge in the merriment. But, as expressed by some, perhaps the trick is not to bemoan missing out on things, but to take this as a chance to count our blessings, to remember the good times we did have with loved ones, and to find some gratification in the fulfillment of one’s duty. What other choice do we have, anyway?