A Tepid Deepavali In Chennai
Island Grounds in Chennai, the usual hotspot for buying fireworks of every variety, is largely deserted this year. There are no winding queues and buyers are scattered.
More than 60 shops have been set up to sell firecrackers here.
D Rajesh, a businessman, who visited the fair with his family, feels that prices have gone up by 10-15% when compared to last year.
“Every year they say cracker sales has gone down or that crackers will be banned, but I don’t believe that. People end up buying crackers year after year,” he said. “It has always been a tradition, and it cannot be separated from this festival.”
But the price increase has pinched the pockets of many. Especially with the economic slowdown of the past six months hurting household budgets.
Another customer, A Gopinath, who owns an IT company in Chennai, usually spends almost Rs 25,000 on crackers every year. This year though, he bought crackers worth only Rs 15,000.
His 12-year-old son Saharsh, who accompanied him, is the only one in the family who bursts crackers. His elder son, 16-year-old Sudharshan believes it is time to go easy on the environment, said Gopinath.
“Usually I take home 2-3 boxes of crackers but this year I am only taking one,” said Gopinath.
“I was actually looking forward to buying ‘Green Crackers’, but they are not yet available in the market,” said a disappointed Saharsh.
Saharsh and others like him want to buy eco-friendly alternatives – called ‘Green Crackers’ in the market.
This demand has come from a Supreme Court verdict of two years ago that banned firecrackers during Deepavali to test the impact on pollution. The court also directed the firecracker industry to produce fireworks that made less noise and gave out less smoke. But two years later, confusion around the formula for eco-friendly crackers still persists.
Kalimuthu, who has been run a firecrackers business for 15 years, says that 40% of the crackers in his shop were made with guidelines given by the Supreme Court. When queried further though, he did not know which ones were the eco-friendly crackers.
“There is no specific seal of green crackers on the boxes we sell, but our manufacturers have assured us that it is indeed eco-friendly and as far as our business is concerned, the rates have increased, but our shop has loyal customers. We hope to make profits if sales go high by tomorrow,” said Kalimuthu.
26-year-old Bhaskar B, owns a factory in Sivakasi and has witnessed the downward spiral of the firecracker industry. According to him, in the past five years, this year has witnessed the lowest production and consumption of crackers.
He is disappointed that the Supreme Court banned production and shut down factories for five months without doing the research to establish a working formula for Green Crackers.
“There is no such thing as a ‘Green Crackers’. Crackers which produce less smoke and sound cannot be considered eco-friendly, we need to reduce the amount of barium used in crackers,” he explained. “It makes a huge difference when the production is shut down for half of the year. We will make only less than half of the profit we used to make every year,” he continued.
But the nostalgia of Deepavali does remain, even if the lights and sounds reduce.
Sowmya Karthick, an entrepreneur and a mother of two, recalls how Deepavali celebrations two decades ago were all about being a community together. “We used to be excited to explore new varieties of crackers each year, and bursting crackers together with your friends used to be so much fun,” she recollects.
People like Sowmya, who miss the fun around this festival, also believe that it is important to keep in mind the livelihood of the people in the firecracker industry and the adverse effects of pollution.
“Probably in the coming future, we might have affordable eco-friendly alternatives to crackers,” she said.