Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Crackers about Crackers

I had thought there was no better example of India’s disregard for health and safety issues than could be seen on the highways and byways of this generous, foolhardy land. I have almost managed to get used to the sight of two carnation and marigold bedecked TATA lorries screeching towards each other on 2 wheels in a palpably vibrating cacophony of horns, demonstrating the perfection of the Doppler effect, and then passing each other by an unmeasurably narrow breadth, usually leaving a hiroshima style dust cloud to settle, out of which emerges, like a phoenix from the flames, an upright cyclist in a lunghi, on a Hero bike, sedately and unhurriedly pedalling with his legs splayed, his knees moving up and down slowly beyond the handlebars.

However, Diwali has introduced me to an entirely new level of disregard for personal safety.
It is probably the most well-known of Hindu festivals – the festival of lights, which like most Hindu occasions celebrates the victory of good over evil, the killing of demons and ultimate triumph of one of their many colourful gods. When I asked how it was celebrated, I was told that it is usually a quiet family affair where people throw crackers. Initially I assumed that throwing crackers was a slightly eccentric Indian alternative to pulling crackers and couldn’t really see the fun in it, but I was keen to experience it, so when Arun asked me and some other friends to spend it with his family, I jumped at the chance.

Myself, Romi & Olwyn – Australian social work students - and Ture, the Swedish nurse, set off for Bangalore (again) on Friday evening. As the train left and the night deepened, we began to understand about the throwing of crackers. The night air reverberated with deafening, even subsonic bangs. Diwali, we came to learn is the festival of sound and lights, where loud sounds are believed to chase demons away and the lights leave no place for the demons to lurk. The crackers were not the tacky crepe paper tubes of Chirstmas containing novelty (useless) gifts, but H-bomb potency bangers which cause perforated eardrums at 200 yards.

When we arrived in Bangalore, it was quite late so we went to dinner at a Kashmiri restaurant serving delicious chicken tandoor and handkerchief roti and then went straight to our hotel. The explosions were continuous and occasionally there was a burst of light. This went on all through the night. As the bed was quite hard, I woke up several times and everytime I did, even if it was 3am, I could hear bangers going off.

The next day after bacon and eggs!!!!!!!!!! for breakfast, we went to Arun’s house for lunch, where his parents, who are unbelievably hospitable and lovely had prepared a delicious lunch for us all, so we stuffed our faces. We killed time in MG road – Bangalore’s equivalent of Oxford street - until we could hold our own firework and cracker Diwali celebration.

Walking to Arun’s house after dark on the main Diwali night was when the true extent of recklessness became obvious. Firstly, fireworks are sold indiscriminately to anyone regardless of age or degree of responsibility. Secondly, once acquired, the fireworks are lit anywhere, and I really mean anywhere. On the way to our own display, there were boys younger than the eggs I had for breakfast, piling fireworks up in the middle of the road and lighting them as cars drove by, making, I should at least acknowledge, a vague attempt not to drive directly over the lit explosive. As they were placed on tarmac and not in any holder or anything to stabilise them, the firework usually shot out in totally unpredictable directions, at one stage, directly towards us, cowering behind some pillars in someone’s driveway. If, by some miracle the firework went upwards, then the probability of it not hitting an overhanging balcony or tree was minimal. After I expressed some concern about the careless use of firecrackers in this country, Arun said to me “You would be amazed how many injuries there are every year.” Oh no I wouldn’t.

Having said that, once we got into our own display, the seductive power of creating sound and light from little piles of paper soon overtook us. We started off being really girly about getting involved, including Ture, and refused to light any, come near any or even open the box. The first bang Arun let off to signify the beginning of the festivities for us, was so powerful and unexpected that it was like being defibrillated after a cardiac arrest. I fully expected the roof to come sliding off the building underneath which we had prudently set up our fireworks.
However, it was so much fun seeing sprays of white light like fountains, green and red rockets, enormous fat sparklers, that we became increasingly reckless. Our first rocket, lit whilst propped in an empty plastic water bottle, fell over before the fuse ran out and it shot all around the road and ended up going straight for Arun’s father. Luckily for Arun his mum was not watching at that time and even more luckily, his father was watching quite closely, and managed to dodge out of the way in time.

Flushed with the success of our exploits and sustaining only a minor fingertip burn where I forgot to let go of the taper when it burnt down, we went to dinner on the roof of a high rise hotel and watched the rest of Bangalore continue their celebrations around us. We had totally delicious food – half of us had Thai and the others had Pharsi. We went to bed with our eardrums ringing to a continuing night-time chorus of dogs barking and fireworks going off.

Here are a few pictures of our Diwali Day.

Arun's Mum and Dad joining in the fun

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The Survivors

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Left to right : Me, Romi, Olwyn, Arun's Mum, Ture, Arun's Dad
Front: Arun (inexplicably doing the splits),

Dinner on a rooftop terrace:

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Anonymous said...

glad your having a fab time. i got burnt at the indian at ulverston{its by my left elbow if jeremy would like to do an undercover report on the dangers of hot food servers}
im so very proud to say your my frind and all the brilliant things your achieving over there, cant wait for you to come homee at christmas xx

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're having a cracking time...