The earliest memory of Deepavali I have is that of me running to the bedroom hollering and hiding under the cot as my dad took out the crackers. I was terrified of them. Not satisfied, I used insist that my mom too should keep me company under the cot. My mum used to be torn between going and watching all those crackers, flowerpots and lights or sitting with me, preventing me from further wetting my shorts.
As years passed, like all males do, I too developed a general liking to blow things up and started appreciating the immense potential these crackers held in occupying you for hours and also the great opportunities they offer to cause injuries to oneself and people around you. What else could a boy ask for?
From that point onwards, it was always the case of too less crackers, no matter how much our dad got us. Dad was running this chit scheme at his workplace where everybody puts in some money and at the end of the year they get crackers and a gift out of it. Since my dad was the head of this scheme, usually it was his responsibility to distribute the crackers to all other members of the scheme.
So on the appointed day, me and my brother used to tag along with dad to the Chickpet area of Bengaluru where the crackers wholesaler used to pack our packets(when I say packets, they never used be the sealed cardboard gift boxes that we get now a days, but the crackers were tossed in to a polythene bag and stapled) . After overseeing that all the items are being packed as per our specifications, we than had to wait for the members to come and pick their packets. These members were so punctual that we at least had 2-3 hrs before the first one arrived with an apologetic smile on his face.
Our dad used to issue us stern warning not to run around the place which stored enough fire power to blow us to kingdom come. More than the concern about our safety, he was worried about the safety of his purse. Our running around meant, we would invariably set our sights on some fancy firework (which obviously was not part of our packet) and pester dad to get us that. Though he usually was game enough to buy most of it, sometimes he drew a line and refused. I guess the look he got from mom the previous year for getting something which cost hundreds (Ok it was the 80s and hundreds mattered a lot then), but fizzled out in seconds made him balk. This happened every year.
After most of the members had collected their packets, there always used to be a few who did not see fit to come and collect theirs. We had to haul those packets to our home and wait for them to come and pick them. This always instilled a hope in us. Suppose if someone doesn’t come before the festival to pick up the packet? we could always make use of that. I was never the one to let things go waste and what purpose these crackers serve after the festival? But usually, they turned up the day before the festival and took away their packets, much to our disappointment.
You have crackers at home, but have to wait till the day of festival. There cannot be much worse torture for a young boy.There always was toy gun and roll caps to pass time. If you were bored with the gun, you take the roll caps and try to burst them by rubbing them against the wall (in the process, burn a bit of your fingers too), or burst them with a hammer, or build contraptions with nuts, bolts and washers to keep the roll caps in between them and throw to the ground to burst them. We were not short of imagination and thank God we never crossed over to the other side of the law.....
Now coming to the actual crackers, there were a variety of them the small 'bijilis', the 'Lakshmi' bombs, 'Parrot' bombs, 'Double Sound', 'Atom' and 'Hydrogen' bombs and lot more. Also the garland crackers. Though I liked all of them, bijilis were my favourite. The bijili packet used to contain about 100 of these and along with the extra ones that we got after pestering dad, there were quite a lot of them and I used to spend hours bursting them. Not just content with bursting them the traditional way (i.e, light the fuse with a agarbathi and run the hell away),we tended to improvise (just like the improvised explosive devices about which we hear a lot these days). Tie the fuses of more than one bijili together to convert them in to double, treble or multiple sounds or place the bijili in a length of PVC pipe and imagine its a rocket launcher or keep it under a coconut shell and make the shell blow up in the air or tie a piece of burning agarbathi to the fuse and convert it in to a time bomb (this particular technology has been effectively used by scores of school children to terrorize the teachers by placing the time bombs in school classrooms or toilets).Also there was the evergreen dare, to burst one in your hand. In short we invented ways to get ourselves injured.
The garland crackers were fun, though they ended in seconds with a cacophony of sounds. Most often than not, many of the crackers in the garland did not burst at all. Improvisation reared its head even here. Open the garland in to single crackers and make the most of it. I never understood the logic of opening up the garland and take the individual crackers and tie them up again to make double or multiple sounds!!
Rockets were another major attraction. Again the potential they held to cause damage to person and property made them dear to us. Though we never fired them placing horizontally, we always hoped that they take a horizontal trajectory, rather than just going up. Tell me what is more fun - a wayward rocket causing people to go helter-skelter or the one which just shoots in to the air?
Of course there were sparklers, flowerpots, chakras, trains and other fancy items which was of not much interest to us macho men. They were for girls. Though I must confess I enjoyed hem as well, particularly when you could do all sort of crazy things with them.
Even after all he crackers are burst and everything has went up in smoke and sound, we still found resources. The big bonfire that you created after collecting all the papers strewn on the road. Picking all those crackers which didn’t quite make a bang. Opening them up and removing the powder from them. Taking the collected powder and it on a paper. Find a fuse, and place it on the collected powder and light it. Watch the whole thing go whoosh!. Usually the fuse doesn’t catch fire and you go to investigate and poke your hand in to it and exactly at the same time whole thing blows, taking the skin of your hand along with it. You stifle your scream, lest your parents hear it and thrash you for being so stupid. Till your hand heals, you hide it from them and swearing silently not to do it next year. But you repeat the whole thing next year with exactly the same results. Learning from past experience did not hold much water with me in those days.
All in all great times. But some how over the years the attraction faded. Though I can never give a reason for it. Might be a combination of them. My dad stopping the chit scheme, me growing up and somehow developing a aversion to loud sounds and explosions probably contributed to it. Also I found the whole fireworks thing so tedious, being careful, washing your hands every time after you have touched them. Kind of figured that I would be better off not touching them at all. A tiny bit of concern to the environment too played its part, but just a tiny one. So I stopped bursting crackers and was content to just watch others bursting them. Sitting on roof top and watching all those colours bursting in the sky became a favourite past time.
Now for past few years, me and my friends pitch in and get a huge garland cracker (10000 wala as they say) and burst it, adding our 5 minutes worth of noise and smoke to the environment. This is our way of remembering the old days and enjoying the occasion. For whatever I may say, the moment the smell of sulphur hits the nose, I get transported to those days when Deepavali was just plain fun and the child in me tries to run and hide under the cot, screaming.........
Have a wonderful festival of lights and a safe one too.......