Monday, October 19, 2009

Crackling Fun-filled Diwali

Around 1 AM. It's the day following Diwali. We were back from the movie Blue. Like heavy fog in hill stations, the Mumbai streets were filled with thick layer of pollution. "Man, crackers and Fireworks dent our environment" was be our initial reaction. And it's natural for people to resolve to not burst crackers quoting reasons such as Pollution (Air, Noise) and Child Labour. I was just wondering whether bursting them is so bad..

As a kid, I used to love bursting crackers. My place is ~25 km from Sivakasi - with my relative running a fireworks factory, we get loads of crackers for free. The crackers are kept not in small bags or boxes, rather in large jute sacks. Then, for a week, it's complete fun with friends and cousins.. To give you a sample..

  • Hold the cracker in hand and throw it up in air just before it bursts - You will get chided by the trespassers for doing so
  • Burst high intensity crackers (such as atom bomb) inside the coconut shell - The kid whose shell couldn't be found out is the winner!
  • Tie a thread between poles and have rocket / train crackers zooming between them
  • When you are tired of bursting crackers one by one, take a  pile, light it up, run and hide behind your door. You will have real fun! :P

Obviously, all these seem risky today.  Nevertheless they are complete fun those days.  Even today, while I personally didn't burst crackers, I love watching them sitting on my window. Festivals like Diwali and the associated fun and celebrations like fireworks are the major element of happiness for people, esp. for the middle class which travels in metros and other public mass transit systems.

India's 80% of fireworks production seem to be from Sivakasi. People estimate fireworks industry to be ~Rs 1,500 Cr. (Source: ET, I'm pretty sure some consultant would have done the estimate. Neither can we accept nor deny! Turns out to have a per capita consumption of Rs. 12 in India. If we assume 20% of the population bursting crackers, it would be a reasonable Rs 60/- per head).  This industry is the bread and butter for some 40,000 people in and around Sivakasi. With increasing awareness on environmental issues, this is not going to be a growth industry (This year they have estimated a drop in 20-30% in sales due to awareness programs and poor monsoons). On top of it, it is one of the most difficult businesses to be in - safety and legal issues, constant threat from activists, need for continuous innovation and some levels of copying from Chinese industry.  Life is really tough for these people. While the economical impact from this industry may seem minimal on the country's economy, at the individual family levels, the problem could be intense.

So, to summarize, blindly saying "Don't burst Crackers" (Or increase taxes to reduce consumption) is like saying "Stop traveling in cars" or "Close down thermal power generators".  It's not to downplay the ill-effects on environment. It's just to say that our efforts should be to find out economically viable alternatives than to shun the crackers. How about Eco-friendly crackers, Smoke-less crackers, Noise-less crackers, Fire-less crackers.. but all of them completely Fun-filled! :)