Friday, October 31, 2008

Bhai Tika Day

This has been an incredibly big week. Should I talk about the insane ride up the hill with the warning: "This mountain has 15 to 50 degree inclines..." or the fact that for most of that ride our tires were spinning on the rocks because there wasn't a "road" so much as, well, rocks.

Should I tell you about the fact that the town is lit up as if it was Christmas? With children running around the streets letting off firecrackers? Occaisionally the odd firework will fly overhead as you walk down the street staring at all the decorations hanging from the shop windows that seemed to miraculousy appear overnight.

Actually I'll tell you about the cultural experience I had today. It was none to soon either. I have been wondering if I have not been fully embracing the amazing culture that surrounds me as I pass my year in this strange place. I can't explain to you what all the festivals are. I can't explain why people believe and do some of the things that they do. Today however, I had a great time at my counterpart's house.

He called me this morning, and instructed me to meet him at Koteshwor Tempo Park at 11 where he would give me a ride to his place. That was an adventure itself, and a story for another time. Turned out I was following him (me on bicycle, him on motorbike - yet another adventure) and we arrived at his house and he introduced me to his family. His sister, mother, son, daughter and brothers. I had to guess who the other people were, and I think I came to the right conclusion with wife and nephews.
Today, sisters prey for the long life of their brothers and give them a very special 'tika' (the cool little spot on the forehead that most people put on each day at temple). In return, brothers give their sister a gift. The women were inside preparing the meal while we sat outside and akwardly shot the breeze. The young boys were staring at me like a monster from the Trapdoor, not sure whether to speak or poke me and run away.

We were called inside and I was given my designated place. Arrayed in front of us on the floor were lots of colours and fruits. Mohan's sister went through Mohan and his brothers dropped some oil on our heads. Mohan's daughter (I feel horrible because I can't remember any of their names) did the same thing for her brother and cousins and then for me. They then poured flower petals over our heads and for some reason we found ourselves balancing walnuts up there as well. As the process continues the boys all became more comfortable and familiar with me, joking all the time. Mohan's daughter then gave me a little Nepali man's hat (YAY! I finally have one) and more flowers.

Then she pulled out the paints (all sorts of colours, made out of various fruits and foods) and gave us each a base layer of yellow with purple, red, pink and orange dots. Then we got a wad of sticky banana-rice redness whacked up above that. I'll put the photos up tomorrow. Afterwards she lit the wick of a candle for each of us and we threw flower petals over it. The ceremony appeared to conclude when grandma (she looks so much like a grandma - she was adorable) ran (actually ran) outside with our walnuts and started crushing them with a brick. Apparently it was very important that this occur at the same time as some other unseen (and unintroduced person) set off a firecracker in time with each one and Mohan's daughter passed us a boiled egg and a bowl of curd (yogourht) which we were apparently meant to eat. I was obviously a special guest, as I was also given a dried out fish (not part of a fish, or a fish fillet, a dried out fish, head and all). It was really special and I felt like a part of their family for the day.

We then had some food (which I thought was lunch) and then I asked the boys to teach me how to play carromboard (a fantastic game slightly similar to pool but without sticks or balls). The younger of us gave Mohan's daughter 'tika' (just the quishy sticky rice-banana redness) while the elders gave it to Mohan's sister. We followed this up with a present, I had already given them them a box of sweets so had to resort to money, which I understood was quite OK. Then an entire meal of Daal Bhat (sometimes, you really just can't eat that much rice) and I came home.

This is a very typical Newari custom (that usually occurs at night time) but we had it at lunch today as they were going to Mohan's wife's family's house for the same ceremony (kind of like at Christmas where you need to go to the party for both sides of the family).

As I rode home, many people pointed out my flower petals (still sticking to my hair) and noted my 'tika'. I felt less bideshi today.

Extra: Forgot to mention that yesterday was Newari New Year. Like I said, it's been a busy week.


  1. It's strange. We had Diwali here yesterday, it's the celebration of the Indian New Year.

    Your story was better here than when you told me on skype :)

  2. That was kind of sweet of them to include you like that. I mean the cou dhave invited you to just hang out but they acually gave you a tika and all.... bet you feel special, dont ya ?

  3. That sounds fascinating. So generous that they let you participate.

  4. not bad hey? I am currently struggling to get the photos from mohan, he either forgets his camera, cord or both. I can't believe i went to something like that camera-less.

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog. So glad that I've found yours... learning about a new culture is fascinating. Hope you get those pics soon!

  6. in retrospect: that should have been
    "they PRAY for the long life of their brothers" not PREY.
    and its not canonboard, but CARAMBOARD. and I need to get me a set - anyone paying attention? cos my birthday is in 3 weeks...

  7. thanks for visiting tamara, welcome!