Many consider Diwali as an auspicious time to splurge on gold, jewellery, clothes and other expensive purchases Image Credit: Getty

I love setting off firecrackers during Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, but there is a ban on fireworks because of pollution, which could make the coronavirus infection worse.

After a dramatic picture of the Indian capital, New Delhi, covered by eye-watering smog, it was decided to ban firecrackers and many states also followed suit.

But after a hue and cry from people, the chief minister of Karnataka State relented, because Deepavali (as it is called in the south of the country) without fireworks is unthinkable and no fun at all.

From a total ban, it was then agreed that we could set off “green firecrackers”, which I suppose means the ones that are eco-friendly and do not let off much smoke.

I looked up an online shopping portal to order a few firecrackers, especially the ones called ‘rockets’ that zip into the skies at high speed and burst spectacularly into a multicoloured shower of fairy lights.

A hasty dispersal

I wanted rockets despite the fact that once when I lit one up, it zipped out of the bottle and went to the neighbour’s house and then turned and came rushing back at us, and we had to hastily disperse.

When I typed ‘firecrackers’ in the search box, it opened up on a section for cigarette lighters that had a flame which is supposedly wind-resistant, maybe for smokers lighting up a coffin nail while a thunderstorm rages.

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Irritated, I typed ‘fireworks’ into the box, and it opened up on a section for men’s trunks, fiery red nail polish and art prints for my bedroom wall that showed sparks flying.

“Oof,” I said and moved on another online international shopping company, and the portal had a colourful banner that shouted, “Start shopping”, “Great Indian festival” and added, ends “November 13”.

One more tap on my keyboard and the screen opened up on coloured Tea Lights, a butane lighter for stoves, a box of “pataka sweets” that looked like real firecrackers, and finally a string of ‘ladi’ bangers.

I remember the bangers would make a tremendous, continuous noise, and for special sound effects we would put them inside a metal bucket and it would sound like a war was on.

When the noise ended and the bucket was picked up there would be a puff of white smoke that smelled acrid.

Virtual bangers

Funnily, the online bangers were ‘virtual’ and you needed a remote that let of sounds of firecrackers.

When we lived in Dubai, Diwali was of course big as there is a huge population of Indians living there, and the downtown streets would be colourfully lit with fairy lights and everyone’s balcony had ‘diyas’ (oil lamps made of clay) flickering in the breeze.

But firecrackers were banned (as did many other countries because of the dangers of kids hurting themselves and because of pollution).

The interesting thing is that the festival brings so much joy and happiness to millions so the debate around crackers or no crackers (especially during COVID-19) in India seems a trifle ironic. Ofcourse we must all adhere to the norms but controversies do arise. They always do.

There are many people in India who still believe that firecrackers should not be banned. When a jewellery firm put out an advert that subtly sent out a message against firecrackers, there was huge outcry on social media calling for the company’s boycott. The call for the boycott has mainly come from men, while it is women who generally buy gold jewellery for the festival.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi