Authorities are promoting a safe and noise-free celebration
“The African Thunder cracker shoots into the air. The popper bomb bursts at the ground level while spewing multi-coloured paper and confetti,” explains a salesperson to a customer at a cracker stall. For many, the Festival of Lights is incomplete without the customarily loud crackers and the colourful sparklers and flower pots.
African Thunder, Popper Bomb, Red Flash, Four-colour Torches, Jade Flowers, Pencil Cartoon, Snake Marbles and Block Buster — these are the names of some of the huge variety of crackers available in the market this festival season.
Despite an enticing variety of fireworks, unlike the previous years, there is not much of a crowd at most of the cracker shops in Madurai. “The craze for crackers has vastly decreased in the last four to five years. Many people have become averse to the noise and the smoke that come along with it,” notes a stall owner at Anna Nagar.
“The Deepavali eve is when most of the shopping happens and we are betting on the last-minute shoppers,” he adds.
Responding to popular sentiments, some cracker companies have come up with solutions. “We manufacture crackers which don’t leave behind too much smoke or residue by reducing the chemicals used. As far as the noise is concerned, the decibel level of crackers is now below 126 decibels,” says G.P. Sampath, the Madurai Depot Manager of Jumbo Fireworks. Cracker outlets agree that the demand for exploding fireworks such as the ‘Atom Bomb’ or ‘Hundredwala’ has dropped. “People prefer crackers which burst against the night sky with lots of colour. And instead of ground-level bombs, people prefer crackers which burst with flashes of colour or confetti,” says S. Venkatesh of Anil Fireworks at a stall in Tamukkam Grounds.
Rising cracker prices have influenced purchasing decisions this year. “We have noticed a substantial increase in the price of fireworks in the last three years,” says K. Balabharathi, a resident of Viswanathapuram. “Many families feel that the money can be used for something more ‘useful’ and have started spending less on firecrackers,” she adds.
Manufacturers point out that rising prices have affected sales. The prices of crackers range between Rs. 50 to Rs. 5,000 and can go even higher. “While some people still don’t mind the high prices and continue to buy crackers in order ‘not to miss out on the festive spirit,’ the volume of purchases has decreased. Families come with a fixed budget and make sure they stick to it,” says a manufacturer. “Five years ago, one could get a good number of crackers for Rs. 1,000, but one has to spend anywhere between Rs. 4,000 to 5,000 for the same quantity now,” he adds.
Parents who are concerned about the safety of their children are reluctant to buy bombs and rockets. R. Veena, a resident of Tallakulam, says her children love sparklers and flowerpots, and she has a first-aid kit ready at home for burns. “The children eagerly look forward to celebrating the festival with firecrackers and, instead of dissuading them, it is best to be prepared and keep a watch over them,” she says.
The Fire and Rescue Services Department has been holding demonstrations across schools and college campuses to explain safety measures to be followed while handling firecrackers and also distributed pamphlets in public places. Flex banners with first-aid instructions to be followed in case of burns as well as tending to fires have been put up across the city.
“There will be fire engines stationed at places such as the East and West Masi streets which are vulnerable. Vehicles will be kept ready at all the fire stations in and around the city,” said Divisional Fire Officer K. Karuppiah. “Vehicles will be patrolling the city on Friday and Saturday to attend to emergencies,” he added.