When I was younger, I would always look forward to the changes autumn would usher in. Every year around late September, I’d start taking in the sights that signaled the coming of Dashain. The first thing I’d notice was the shortening days–the natural light getting dimmer, earlier and earlier, each evening. Darkness would start descending at around 7:45, then 7:30, then 7, and so on, as the shortening days got rapidly shorter. Starting a few years ago, by the first week of October, I’d find myself–a budding photographer–observing the darkness swallowing the gallis of Kathmandu by around 6. I’d also observe how the crowds in this city’s shopping districts would congeal into thicker and thicker masses as autumn wore on.
In this unfortunate year of the Covid pandemic, however, I was hoping against hope that I would not be witness to at least that last recurring pattern–of thickening crowds. I’d read enough media reports to know that my hope was misplaced. But last week, I decided to see for myself, and capture through my lens, the pre-Dashain activities in the larger Ason-Indrachowk-New Road area.
When I got to the shopping districts, I was immediately dismayed upon seeing shoppers readily cramming into already packed restaurants, families–overflowing bags in hand–flitting from shop to shop, and people milling around malls.
But later, as I pondered over what I had seen and as I thought about what some of the shoppers had told me, I could only conclude the following: The people are scared and confused, but because the national strategy for tackling the virus has been all over the place, they’ve decided to get on with their lives. Also, because our leaders and decision-makers have not been able to present to the public a coherent plan of action, we’re resorting, almost unconsciously, to finding hope and catharsis any which way we can–in these darkening days of autumn–by preparing for the upcoming festivals.