Deepavali was the real festival of joy & lights, at least in the Southern part of India where I live. No other festival is celebrated with so much vigour and enthusiasm, as this one. I have gone through a full 360-Degree experience with this festival.
When I was very young, we used to play with flowerpots, ground chakra, kambi matthappu and other such non-violent crackers. That was fine, and fun. But, when we moved to flats, older kids kept bombing the whole ground, as early as one month before the festival!
The most dreaded words back then were ‘Atom bomb’ and ‘Hydrogen bomb’. The sound generated by these two crackers were deafening. Once, someone announced that they were going to burst an atom bomb and I ran away to a safe place (two blocks away) and still closed my ears. I have no idea whether it was burst or not!
One day, I just returned from someplace and on seeing many guys bursting ‘bomb’ crackers, I hurried quickly to my house. One of my friends (2 years elder to me) called me and asked me to burst crackers along with him. I guess I made some excuse but he rightly found out that I was afraid. He said,
“See, I am also afraid of the larger bombs. But this one is ‘bijili vedi’. This is not so loud. Besides, you just need to light the tip of the thiri and run back here immediately. From here, it’s not so loud”
There seemed to be some logic in what he said. The first time, he came with me, showed me how to light the bomb and both of us ran away after it was lit. What he said was right. I found that if we get away to a safe distance, bursting bombs can be fun! That started the fun-filled festival that Deepavali would become!
In the mornings, there was a race for bursting the first bomb. I did it once 🙂 Since my block had the largest ground in the front, people from all other blocks came here to burst crackers. As you can imagine, the sound was deafening and the atmosphere was electric. It was almost impossible to cross that ground during Deepavali mornings. We challenged each other to do it!
Once, one boy was about to burst a bomb at a distance. Some guys from here passed some ‘overconfident’ comments. He immediately turned the direction of the bomb and lit it. There was one sound there and another sound near us! We were stunned. We asked him what it was, and he said ‘Double Sound’. All of us bought the double sound immediately!
The normal bombs were biliji, kuruvi and lakshmi vedi. Of course, the saram (100 wala, 1000 wala, 5000/10000 wala) was also popular. The atom bombs and hydrogen bombs were only for the bravest. I remember lighting it a couple of times. In-spite of our repeated requests, our parents never bought us rockets due to an accident that happened in our complex. Hence it was banned.
The nights were even better as all the flower pots, ground-chakras/hand-chakras and so many lighted crackers filled up our view. All the families were on the ground and having fun. I remember sitting on the terrace to observe the various crackers that burst in the sky. Of course, Deepavali meant special dishes, sweets, TV programs/latest movies and so many other fun activities. We used to visit our relatives place, at times.
As I got older and since we moved out of flats, I lost interest in bursting crackers. We still used to burst some crackers on the terrace, until before three years.
When I was 27, I had the worst Deepavali experience of my life. We went to a relatives’ house and a mind-blowing amount of crackers were accumulated there. I was considered as one of the ‘kids’ and was forced to burst a lot of crackers! I observed how ‘mob-mentality’ works. I observed how ‘grouping’ could could induce the, ‘If I do it, you should do it too, otherwise you’ll be ridiculed’ attitude.
During this time, I also began to consider other facts like how children were forced to work in cracker-factories and how unsafe conditions in the factories led to the death of many people. I also got to know that the sound of crackers were unbearable for dogs/birds. Needless to mention the air pollution and noise pollution created by crackers. That was it. I decided that I will never burst a cracker again, whatever be the ‘pressure’ on me.
Would I have taken the same decision 15 years back, when bursting crackers was so much fun? No. In fact, I did not. Looking back, I am surprised on why it took 27 years for me to come to this simple and obvious decision!