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The International Writers Magazine
India - Mumbai

Diwali -Lights and Sounds
Rhonda Ward

The entire city of Mumbai is under attack with the sound of thousands of fire crackers exploding. The repeated boom of the threepenny banger and the bang booms of 30 feet of unrolled penny bangers interspersed with the occasional threepenny banger, lays seige to the city. It is the Diwali, the Indian equivalent of Christmas and the air is acrid with the smoke from tones of fireworks.

A 9 year old girl in her sparkly diwali costume walks onto a major road, and bends down to light a big bomberooney. All cars, bajajs, motorcycles and the rest screech to a halt until the boom subsides. NOBODY expresses any anger around being stopped, bombed, blasted or nearly blinded by the fireworks. Traffic veers through the smoke and around the exploding fireballs. Families on scooters cover their noses with scarves and tear through. The bajajs veer around the explosions, rogue firecrackers laying in wait to explode under whatever or whomever crosses its path. I am on the third floor of an hotel building and cannot hear the television in my room. The war of good over evil is in full swing.

With names like: Butterflies, Chut phut, crackling stars, Red force fire cracker, Delux chakree and Silver chip, hundreds of ruppees are going up in smoke. During Diwali, the local newspaper prints a rate card of going prices in the fireworks market elevating them to commodity status along with gold and grain. There is a sound similar to a full scale AK47 attack out front. These crackers make the Chinese celebration crackers sound like wind from vegetarian twins.

The big boy bomberoonies are set in place and detonated by gangs of young men. Young women get in on the act but tend to deal more with the flowering type of firework and shun the banality of the one boom and you are gone type. The ‘Graphics’ firework actually costs around 3000rp and promises such as painting the sky in fire with the likeness of a gazelle are usually baseless. Nobody complains. The ‘180 and 200 shots’ firework delivers around the said amount of bursts.

Donations from the community fund the purchase of crackers and the more financial communities will find no sleep tonight. Neither will I, I feel. Someone has lit an entire 30 foot length of crackers out the back. The whole role runs its explosive dominoes under a parked car. A couple of young lads have just lit a box the size of a small esky (cooler) in the middle of the road. The gathered young run for cover. Soon enough the box begins exploding comets into the sky, golden ones that whizz in a spiralling fashion into buildings; white lights that scream upwards and burst as white dwarf stars and others that flower out enough to cause two lanes of traffic to halt and wait. It takes a full minute or two for the box to discharge its magic of lights. I look back toward the hotel and the display of small oil burning lamps around stick-on mandalas that had impressed me yesterday seem limp now.

There are laws. Nothing that appears to hold up in court. Yes, it is recommended that the explosions cease by 10pm but judging by last night’s tossing and turning to the explosions at around 1am, I think rule number one is interpretive. Grown ups exhort their small children to keep off the road and let daddy light the dangerous cracker. I can see straight through daddy. He is back in shorts and the young hoon is out! Those who are prone to asthma and have the money, leave the city for the duration of Diwali. Five days of constant fireworks coat the humid city in a blanket of toxicity. Parties are on the go everywhere. On the famous Chowpatty beach, families are lighting the sky way past curfew. Police who have tried to enforce the curfew are dealt with by irate mothers and fathers. The TV news this night shows a dejected little boy being pushed aside by an irate mother who is ‘going’ the cop big time!

There is an optimal time to buy gold and the day to buy kitchenware comes close on its heels. There is a day to wear your newest and best clothes and days to feast with the family. Saturday night is Diwali and almost half of Mumbai settle in for late night card sessions. I guess if you win it is triumph over evil because it is good to win and the triumph over dark is what the festival of lights is all about. At least Sunday is the quietest day of the year and I literally mean day because it is 6.30pm now and the sounds of big bomberoonies and the wail of a siren blow the peace right off the street.

© Rhonda Ward April 2007,
rhonda.ward at

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