Festivals give you an opportunity to reflect and observe
In Delhi, Diwali is a big deal. Besides being one of the most celebrated festivals in India, Diwali is also the biggest festival of gift exchanging. And it is done in grand way. Gifts of all kinds–corporate gifts, family gifts–are exchanged during the festival.
This culture of exchanging gifts has over the years become more than just an expression of gratitude. It has become competitive. Whose gift is better, whose gift outdoes whose, what did you get as a gift from so-and-so organisation or from your so-and-so relative. These are the questions that swim in the minds of the people who receive gifts.
Such a culture has also slowly made its way into Nepal, especially in Kathmandu. The gifting culture here has become transactional. And unless there is a social or religious compulsion or a transactional gain, the culture of gifting does not really exist. The culture of gifting is dictated by the norms of the community one belongs to and by the importance one gives to their religious and cultural traditions.
The culture of gifting is always a man’s world in Nepal. This notion makes me wonder how this society, where such behaviour is still prevalent, can really understand the importance and urgency of equal rights of women as equal citizens. Festivals in Nepal, while changing, are still designed for men. It is the men who celebrate with the women folk in the house cooking and cleaning. One of the most important reasons of the migration of educated working women to other parts of the world has been the fact that they cannot handle this social and family pressure. This has not been much talked about as it has happened in the homes of activists, thought leaders and self-declared intellectuals. Whenever I see posts of people on social media talking about how they celebrated their festivals with their families in different lands, I keep wondering whether they get away with the bullying back home.
While we are talking about festivals, let me touch upon an activity that is synonymous with festivals: gambling. There are many theories on whether gambling proliferates more in societies that are rent-seeking rather than those that are entrepreneurial. Personally, I have refrained from gambling not because I don’t enjoy a game of cards, but because I cannot handle the big stakes. I keep wondering: will I put at stake my hard-earned money in a manner to blow up big stakes in couple of hours? So what money is being gambled? You can gamble the earnings you got from rent; money that you had nothing to do with as previous generations created assets for oneself. That money can be gambled without you batting an eyelid. It’s always the people who have the free money who are the ones who don’t mind risking it.
This gambling mindset has had particular influence on our government, especially political leaders, who keep gambling with projects as the money is thought to be not of oneself. The opportunity to squander taxpayers’ money is the biggest gamble one can embark upon. This is one of the key reasons why the Nepali economy is a laggard and the quality of growth so poor.
Across the villages and towns in India, they are always waiting for festivals in Nepal, for it is during this time that business opportunities are most available. I remember writing in one of the columns in this paper about how a group of eight sweet makers took back $ 10,000 after spending a month in Nepal just making sweets. The same is with vendors selling all kinds of wares in different parts of Nepal. It is interesting that while people complain there aren’t any jobs in Nepal nor opportunities, they do not take the initiative to get into entrepreneurship.
Yet, everything said, there are still horizons of hope. This Tihar, unlike the ones we celebrated in the past, we can light up our homes. It was not long ago that we spent many Tihar figuring out our inverter’s back-up capacity and when and whether we can afford to switch on which light. In 2015, the festival had been its most somber with the Indian blockade and the earthquakes severely affecting the festive mood.
This year, however, every family who will light up their homes this year will surely, knowingly or unknowingly, think of Kulman Ghising, the MD of the Nepal state utility who demonstrated that good and honest management will bring changes. He managed to impact the lives of the Nepali population by ensuring that we got an uninterrupted supply of electricity. It was a big lesson for a country that could not spend its money wisely and who wasted opportunities like getting $4 billion committed after earthquake or $ 13 billion investment committed at an investment summit.
As we seek the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi for more wealth and prosperity, we need to understand that money is not the solution to everything. The country is not poor, the GDP is $30 billion and then remittance is increasing. People’s asset values are also increasing. If one values assets alone, Nepalis are richer than ever before. But that surely ensures that one needs to think beyond money. This Tihar, think about how now that we have the money, but what do we need to do to fix Nepal?