Saturday, September 27, 2014

Earlier, Dasain used to even taste different!

A shop in Lall Bazaar specializing in basti-produce. In the past, it would see frenetic business in the run up to Dasain… nowadays, it is business as usual even this close to the festival


The Dasain weekend is here! And like every year, everyone is busy, or so it would appear, preparing to celebrate one of the biggest festivals of the Nepali Hindu community of the State. But for 72-year-old-Dilman Chettri of Rawtey-Rumtek, preparations being done by his children and grandkids are of too superficial compared to the excitement that Dasain generated when his generation was still calling the shots.
“For us, Dasain meant everything from family get-together to offering prayers to the deities; chance to receive ashirwad [blessings] from elders to wearing new clothes - that once a year event - and also an opportunity to show off hidden talents in dancing or singing folk songs or even bhajans,” he said, frowning that for the present generation, the festival has become stuck in a mere formalities and tokenism.
According to him, the whole village used to start preparing for Dasain more than six months in advance. They used to decide and plan for the cultivation of special varieties of paddy for Dasain and similar planning was done to cultivate appropriate varieties of millet by the matwali communities [Limboo, Rai, Gurung, Tamang, Mangar etc.], timed for harvest around a month ahead of the Dasian to prepare jaanr/ chaang.
Supporting Mr. Chettri’s comment, 69-year-old Damber Kumar Rai said, “A separate paddy field used to be maintained, named ‘Thapachini Bari’, where only Thapachini variety of paddy used to be cultivated to make chewra [beaten rice] for Dasain.”
According to him Thapachini is the only paddy which can be cultivated ahead of the scheduled season and readied for harvest around a month ahead of Dasain so that chewra can be prepared for the festival. The traditional paddy is ready for harvest only a month after Dasain. Similarly, Nangkatwa Kodo [millet] is the best variety to be harvested before Dasain to prepare jaanr. While these were grown in farms across Sikkim earlier, they are only rarely grown anymore; at least not as part of Dasain preparations any more.
Earlier, chewra had a very special role and requirement during Dasain. People used to walk long distances to reach the home of their elders to receive tika. The welcome snack at every home in those days used to be chewra with banana and chini-ko chia [sugar tea]. The elderly duo reminiscing about Dasain of the yore highlight that sugar tea used to be a rare treat, offered only on Dasain and Teohar in basti homes. The chewra and banana snack was also an energizer which would get tired legs and young kids back in the Dasai spirit.
“But no one needs to walk any where anymore,” they quip in unison.
The duo informed that for tika and food, rice from the previous year’s stock was used and the favoured varieties were Chirakhey, Kalo Nunia, Krisna Bhog, Attay etc. all of whose grains are small in size [hence stick well on the forehead] and all have an aroma which serves as the most pleasant appetizer.
Besides, for curries to eat with chewra and rice, khasi, sungur, kukhura [mutton, pork, chicken] used to fattened especially for Dasain through the year.
“Gone are those days. Dasain those days literally had a different taste,” says Mr. Rai.
According to him, the present generation has become lazy because of surplus flow of cash. Liquidity, it appears is robbing people of the festive spirit.
Paddy fields are either lying barren or are leased out; quality hence becomes secondary and tradition skips the fields and settles for the cosmetic superficiality of ration shops. Agricultural tracts are used more to grow fodder for livestock because dairy is more lucrative than agriculture.
“These days, our children go Dasain shopping a day ahead of Tika and buy everything from rice to meat from the market. There is no excitement for kids to have new clothes for Dasain as their parents buy them new clothes all year round,” says Kul Bahadur Mukhia, a retired Government servant. “Those days” Dasain meant new clothes.
The memories of these elders echo at Lall Bazaar shops as well. Of course, the Lall Bazaar of yore is now the “Kanchanjunga Shopping Complex”. Dasain is only a few days away, but there is still no rush here. “Business is very down,” the shopkeepers complain.
Subhash Rai, a hawker at Lall Bazaar, who has been selling basti-ko chaamal, chewra and other similar products of the past 20 years informs, “There is no noticeable increase in the volume of sales of basti ko chaamal during Dasain.”
Mr. Rai mainly sales the mohan bhog and attay varieties supplied mainly from Rhenock and its surrounding areas. As far as chewra is concerned, sales go up substantially during Dasain, he informs. Unfortunately though, the chewra is no longer locally produced and supplies reportedly come from Nepal. Against the Thapachini variety used for chewra in Sikkim, Nepal farmers prefer Taichung, which is also grown in some parts of Sikkim. This variety, along with Jhapaka, Champasari and some Government-promoted varieties of paddy are preferred for chewra, but nowadays, farmers prefer to prepare more of murai instead.
Similarly, Mr. Palden, who has also maintained a stall selling similar commodities for the past more than 10 years, informs that the customers buy basti ko chaamal mainly to make kholey for recuperating patients. The belief is that basti ko chaamal has more nutritious.
But, as far as “Dasain special rice” is concerned, Lal Bazaar customers prefer “non-local” rice over basti ko chamaal. Basmati, KRT, Mayur etc. come in several varieties and cost less. At present the market value of basti ko chamaal is Rs. 80 per kilogram.
About the slack “season” at Lall Bazaar, Mr. Palden believes that against earlier, when Lall Bazaar was the main shopping centre, every nook and corner and locality of Gangtok and its neighbouring areas now have their own markets and shops. “Who knows, the smaller markets across Sikkim might be doing good Dasain business,” he comments.

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