Monthly Archives: October 2017

crackers-festival

Diwali Crackers ranked according to awesomeness (and Risk Levels)

I have been writing about Diwali over the last one week, and as expected, the discussions have all descended into a Hindu vs Muslim argument.

Honestly, I’m a little tired of putting forth my opinions and being labelled. There’s already been so much said on the subject, and the reader will mostly only take the opinion based on the ideology that they belong to, so it’s like singing a Qawwali to a cow.

While I’m an atheist and strongly detest anything to do with religion and religious rituals, I cannot deny that I’ve had my share of fun on Diwali. I cannot deny that Diwali is more than bursting crackers or creating an India-shaped hole in the Ozone layer. It is about families getting together. About joy, happiness, and explaining technology to family members.

Also, no matter what I say about crackers, I can’t change the fact that I’ve burst thousands of crackers in my lifetime. I realise that just because I’ve grown up and slanted towards a particular line of thought, I cannot expect kids of today not to burst crackers. That would be very uncle-y of me, and not something I’d do.

What I’d like to do, on the other hand, is to list out all Diwali crackers on the basis of awesomeness (and the risk involved).

So here it is. The definitive list of Diwali crackers, ranked on the basis of awesomeness.

  1. SNAKE BOMB:

This name is a misnomer. It is not really a bomb; and no prizes for guessing – it isn’t really a snake either.

The snake bomb (also called snake pellet/Evil Hajmola/Kill Grandmother Tablet) is a small, black button-like object that is placed on the floor. Light it with a matchstick, and nothing happens – only a thick, black line of soot comes out of the tablet, leaving a permanent scar on the floor, and in your heart. I always felt this was the Lifebuoy of crackers – that after all the crackers were made, this was coughed up with whatever gun-powder remained in Sivakasi. It has now been banned by the government, which came as a surprise to nobody.

RISK LEVEL: Zilch. Except that your grandparents might feel they gave birth to a degenerate.

 

  1. MAALA:

If the Indian government wishes to track black money, they needn’t run after Swiss Bank accounts. They need to place taxmen in colonies and track down the man who’s bursting the longest maala on Diwali.

The most annoying Diwali cracker in the history of Diwali crackers. If the Maala existed in the time of Ramayan, Lakshmana would have shot arrows straight through the hearts of the monkey army for lighting up maalas.

The Maala (which comes in varieties of 10,000 wala, 1 lakh wala and 10 lakh wala) is a ‘fuck-you’ cracker that serves no purpose but to display the wealth of its owner. The most annoying bit about the Maala (also called the ladi) is the fact that while it goes on for over 9 minutes like a thumri, all you can do is sit and wait.

RISK LEVEL: Make sure grandparents have had dinner, play Raina Beeti Jaaye on Sony Mix, and the begin lighting the Maala.

 

9. FOUNTAIN/FLOWERPOT/KUMPI

The flowerpot (also called an ‘Anaar’ by people who studied at Rishi Valley School) is symbolic of Diwali and is often the first cracker to get out of the way. It is easy, fun to watch, and like a human orgasm, is fantastic for a few seconds.

However, the reason for its low ranking is the fact that the Flowerpot scores very low on the Money : Chaos theory. You can’t direct it at neighbours, or use it to spook the guy next to you lighting up an Atom Bomb. The riskiest thing you can do with this is to hold it in your hand while lighting up, something Jackie Shroff did as an infant. In fact, Jackie Shroff came out of the hospital ward holding a lit up fireworker in his left hand (he’s right-handed). But more on that later, for Diwali is an occasion to celebrate other heroes.

Another reason for its particularly low ranking is the fact that it has become rather expensive these days.

RISK LEVEL: Breeze. Like watching Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham on Star Gold on a Wednesday afternoon.

 

8. CHAKRI

The Chakri is based on a simple concept – that if you wrap barood in thin strips of paper and tie them around in a circle, it will rotate and spew sparkling lights across. It has a fairly long wick and can be lit by people of all ages. The only problem I have with the Chakri (and hence, the low ranking) is the fact that it needs a lot of prep time.

Chakris need to be properly sunned in the afternoon, failing which they go through the scientific phenomenon known as ‘phusss ho gaya’.

RISK LEVEL: Just wear a pair of Paragon chappals.

 

7. BIJLI:

The Bijli Bomb (bit of a stretch to call it a bomb, honestly) is a value for money, efficient cracker that does its job. You can light it up before, after, or during Diwali – the Bijli is the French Fries of Diwali crackers.

When many Bijlis come together, they create the annoying maala, but as individual sticks, they are quite palatable. Proving that in the world of crackers, the adage holds true – ‘United we Terrorise, Divided we chill’.

The Bijli bomb can be enjoyed be oneself. Light a candle, light the wick of the Bijli, throw it away from you. Relight the candle.

RISK LEVEL: Mild surprise when grandmother is praying in front of the Tulasi plant, but no physical damage.

 

6. SPARKLER:

Non-exciting and completely vegetarian, the Sparkler is the only real surprise in this list. However, it has earned its place on the basis of solid facts. The sparkler is pretty much the first real cracker that anybody in their lives ever held. It is also the only cracker that every single member of the family could hold, loop around in the air for a few times, and then safely throw away to the side.

The sparkler is also used when matchsticks are too mundane to light up other dangerous bombs, and on the basis of efficiency and their ubiquitous nature, the Sparkler ranks high in the list.

RISK LEVEL: Very low. In fact, grandparents will smile, and give you their blessings. And some pocket money as well, if they aren’t my grandparents.

 

5. CHOCOLATE BOMB:

No fuss, does what it’s supposed to do, comes cheap, and looks like it was made from Minnie Mouse’s old underpants – what’s not to like about the classic Chocolate Bomb?

The Chocolate Bomb used to cost a rupee in my childhood and I’m glad to announce that it only costs about 10 rupees now (5 if you buy on Diwali evening). In fact, if Bajaj Motors released a Diwali cracker, it would be the chocolat bomb. Cheap, efficient, won’t last too long.

RISK LEVEL: It has a very small wick, and requires precision while lighting. Grandparents could throw their walking stick at you.

 

4. ROCKET

The perennial favourite, the ‘Rocket’ was such a legendary cracker that Chacha Chaudhry named his dog after this delightful essential household item.

Comes in attractive packaging, with tantalising pictures of Katrina K and Kareena KK. The rocket also scores highly due to its flexible usage. It can be lit up in various modes – fitting the complete range of sadomasochism – from the Arun Govil technique of filling a cool drink bottle with sand, to the ISIS approved method of holding it in your hand and pointing it to the neighbour’s window.

RISK LEVEL: ‘Stick it with the pointy end’, Jon Snow said, as he smiled at Arya.

 

3. ONION BOMB:

I don’t know if this bomb is still available and legal, but it was one of my favourites while growing up. The Onion Bomb had no wick to light, and burst on impact when you threw it with force against a wall, floor, or ceiling.

Shaped like an onion and looked like a garlic, I used it extensively as an imaginary cricket ball. I would draw wickets on the wall, take a run up and bowl fast (being careful not to pitch the ball short). On the other end, I would imagine Pakistani batsmen buckling under pressure (What can I say! Disturbed childhood). I also used it as grenades to fling at imaginary villains, as shown in the film Zalzala.

RISK LEVEL: Do not buy too many at one time and put them in the same bag. Do not put the bag on the floor with force once you’ve reached home. Do not put them in your pockets, as you might slip and fall. Do not ask your grandparents to cook you anything that involves onion or garlic.

 

2. GUN AND BULLETS:

Okay, I take back my words. The Gun and Bullets are the ACTUAL surprise on the list, but kindly give me a minute to explain my choice, M’lord.

While Diwali might be a festival that raises many questions on the socio-political spectrum today, this wasn’t always the case. Back then, Diwali only came on the news when people suffered third degree burns. And even then, I didn’t spend a lot of time fussing over bombs and creating imaginary lists in order of awesomeness.

There were two other boys in our lane and the three of us ensured we got decent guns in our pockets. We collected coins and pooled in the brown cardboard boxes that had rolls of red, barood-filled bindis in them. And then we set out.

An abandoned truck had been lying by the side of a road for a few years, and if you climbed from the back, you could open its doors and sit inside. The back was empty, and the great vessel that once carried sand and cement and chips was now a fortress. I spent many an afternoon hopping on to the truck, killing enemies while ducking Bullets, and holding dear friends as they died in my arms from bullet wounds…only to rush home to drink a glass of Bournvita and return as a new hero!! For, tell me O Partha, how can you remove the concept of Punarjanam from a festival?

RISK LEVEL: Barely any. Keep away from the dressing table and cousins attempting Medical/CA courses to avoid minor scares.

 

1. HYDROGEN BOMB:

The elder brother of the Atom Bomb, the Hydrogen Bomb is a large ball of destruction that is rolled up in green woollen threads and a shiny sticker to hold the wick in.

If the Atom Bomb is the gateway to the Dark Side, the Hydrogen Bomb is where things get real. Not every wizard who bought guns from Ollivander’s shop will step over into the dark green, Slytherin world of the Hydrogen Bomb. But the ones that do, will heed the call of the Death Eaters, and purchase boxes full of these potent crackers.

In Game of Thrones, Ser Beric Dondarrion lights up the Lightbringer sword and comes back to life, but it kills a bit of him every single time. As we know, everything originated in India, and George RR Martin was inspired for this idea from the great Vishwa RR Mitra, an Indian Maharishi. Much like the Lightbringer sword, the Hydrogen Bomb startles everybody, but particularly rearranges the insides of the person who lit it up. Other conspiracy theories say that it was invented by Tyler Durden on a particularly gloomy Wednesday afternoon.

The Hydrogen Bomb is all the more relevant in the times we live in. As we speak, Kim Jon Un and Donald Trump are threatening each other with Hydrogen Bombs of larger sizes, as Death Eaters around the world cheer with glee. It might be the last Diwali out there folks, enjoy it while it lasts!

RISK LEVEL: Grandparents could strike out your name from the family’s inheritance.

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So that is it.

That is ALL I know about Diwali crackers. I literally no nothing else on the subject. If I ever make it to KBC and Mr. B asks me ‘Haiiiinnnn…. Hriday ji, agla sawaal… Kaun sa Bharatiya neta ne ‘Lakshmi Bomb’ ko naam diya?’; I’d have to quit the game, for there is nothing more I know about crackers.

Some 10 years ago, I started this blog as a teenager, unaware that it would mean anything, unaware that it would open doors, that thousands of strangers would connect to it. But it has survived 10 years.

If this blog survives another 30 odd years, and some kid is reading it and looks back on our times, let them not think that Diwali was only a festival that brought on controversies, debates and confrontations on the news and Internet. Let them know that Diwali was a festival when people shared sweets, met their loved ones, got high, smiled, and laughed.

I am nobody to preach to you. Burst crackers if you have to. Don’t burst them if you don’t.

Stay safe! Happy Diwali. 🙂 🙂

*****

Featured Image Courtesy: www.hindugodwallpaper.com

‘The Lunchbox’ is an ode to loneliness

In the last one year, a strange practice has taken over my film-viewing habits.

Instead of hunting for new movies to watch, new stories to trip on – I have been revisiting films that struck a chord with me in the last few years. I like to rewatch them, go back to my review and opinions of the film, and see if anything has changed. If I still feel the same way about the film.

I found that I’m kinder to Imtiaz Ali’s films (Tamasha, Highway), and find myself having been overtly kind to a few other films (Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola).

However, the experience of watching a film without the urgent, binding pressure to review it, to pronounce a verdict; is a much better way to watch the film.

It was in this journey of re-reviewing films that I came across The Lunchbox a few days back.

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The overwhelming emotion that the film evokes, is that of loneliness. The entire film is an ode to loneliness – not the sudden, crushing loneliness of losing a loved one. But the slow, corroding loneliness that gets deeper and darker. Like the rods of old trains that have gotten rusted with time.

The look and feel of the film carries a minimalistic tone. The name, the trailer, and even the sets of the film evoke a feeling of overwhelming loneliness.

On the surface, the film is the story of Ila and Sajan. But scratch this fragile surface, and you’ll find that each and every character in the film is lonely. Each of them distinct from the other, and yet; each of them lonely in a distinct, different way.

There’s Nawazuddin Siddiqui. A man rooted in no family or home, a man who carries his kitchen with him in his briefcase. Who makes up an imaginary mother and feeds her memorable quotes. Who latches on to his superior in the office, bearing insults and jibes – striking up conversations from the limited matchsticks in his armoury. Nawazuddin is probably the happiest person in the film, finally pleading with another lonely man to join him on the happiest day of his life.

There is Ila – dressed in  sepia toned chudidars. A husband who doesn’t care, a father on his deathbed. She’s a housewife, a non-economic entity in the City of Dreams, surrounded by lonely people.

The aunty upstairs is lonely, having spent 15 years tending to a paralysed man who has been staring at the ceiling fan for a decade and a half. Ila’s daughter is lonely too – her large, round eyes lack the boisterous exuberance of a child. She plays by herself, with a doll that he mother used to play with. Ila’s mother is lonely too, a wife with no tears to spare for her dead husband. Her husband is pursuing an extramarital affair at work. So disconnected is he to life that even though he’s been eating the same curry for weeks at stretch, it evokes a mere complaint to his wife. Her brother has committed suicide, his death hanging over them like a family ghost.

Which is why Ila clings on to that little connection when it comes her way. Which is why she checks if her daughter is around before opening his letters. Why she giggles when she reads them, and lies to Aunty about the brinjals she bought. She clings on to it, even if the feeble, gossamer of a connection is with Sajan Fernandes.

A man who doesn’t just look old, he smells old. A man who has resigned to life, and by extension, to death. Who discusses vertical coffins like it was an item in his grocery list. A man who gets his food from nearby hotels, who religiously performs his duties, and has nobody else in the entire world. As a child, when we would play cricket in the bylanes of my colony in Bhubaneswar, I used to wonder what sort of people didn’t return the ball when it fell into their compound. Perhaps there are Sajan Fernandes-es all around us.

Which is why Sajan grasps onto the gossamer too. The secret is a window of indulgence in the pale grey room that is his life. The terror in his eyes when the ceiling fan above him stops moving; the pride he feels when Sheikh praises his food. Sajan is a man who would meticulously cling on to a thread in a storm.

And when the two leads begin to connect, they do not discuss the bright, colourful joys of life. They do not connect over dreams of tomorrow, but over morbid themes – lung cancer, a woman who jumped off a building with her daughter, and the distance between two people who live together.

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Which is why when the film ends on a cliffhanger, you as a viewer feel neither ecstatic, or crushed, or moved, or elated. The last shot of the film is a group of dabbawalas, singing bhajans, carrying empty tiffin boxes back. It will be another day tomorrow.

Perhaps the two will meet. Perhaps they won’t.  

 

*****

Diwali pollution

A cracker of a decision

Sometimes, I wonder if there’s any issue we can discuss in India without giving it communal undertones.

And then, I remember that this is India and if I want to have fancy dreams, I might as well think of Aditi Rao Hydari on a bright summer beach. We might be the oldest existing civilisation in the world, but we discuss and argue with the intellectual maturity of adolescent grasshoppers.

Unlike what Twitter will tell you, the directive to ban the sale of firecrackers in Delhi and NCR does not stem from the Supreme Court being a ‘liberal gandu’. It was actually a petition signed by three kids from Delhi who believed that firecrackers were polluting the air.

And before you dismiss it as some childish dream by three naadaan bachhe, here’s some facts that will stir up the patriotism in you – India has a problem of pollution. 13 of our cities rank among the 30 most polluted cities in the world. We have the most number of polluted cities, and share this unique distinction with China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Which means that we live in the most polluted region in the world, and if we don’t start acting up, shit gonna hit da fan, bruh!

According to other reports, 50 lakh kilograms of firecrackers are set to be sold in the NCR region, and 1 lakh kilos in Delhi alone. Which of course, has some benefits. For example, we learn new words every year. Like SMOKE + FOG = SMOG. After all, Indian culture is the best. Even if you pollute the fuck out of the environment, Indian culture will give you something back in return.

Most critics of the ban have a singular, solid point of defence. Why single out only Hindu festivals? Are you fucking kidding me? You’re going to be bursting 2 crore kilograms of firecrackers in one night, and you want a fucking pat on the back??

Funnily enough, most patriots nurture a strange notion that crackers are an integral part of Diwali celebrations. They actually believe that our ancestors from the Vedic age burst crackers on Diwali. What fertile minds! What vivid imaginations!!

So they must be thinking that the day Rama returned from Lanka after defeating Ravana, Vishwamitra and Vashishta went and bought some bijli bombs and started lighting up ladis along the road. That Narada went and brought some rockets and Shatrughana (since he didn’t have much to do throughout) made sure the crackers were dried in the sun the previous day!

And leading this pack of morons is the largest selling author of our country – Chetan Bhagat. It’s been five years since I’ve bitched about the guy, and I’m thrilled to announce that the dude has just got more and more stupid as the years have gone by. Mr. Bhagat has tweeted about how firecrackers are being targeted, and slaughtering goats is not touched upon. Bhagat is a funny man. All through the UPA regime, he fussed and cribbed about the government being a sellout by making policies appeasing Muslims. One would assume he would shut the fuck up now that his wet dreams have come true with a majority BJP government. But one must never underestimate the power of stupidity!

And that is the sad part about having any discussion in India today. You cannot broach any topic without some intellectually challenged dude like Chetan Bhagat questioning your secular credentials. I fail to understand how pollution has any religion. What is the religion of a child’s lungs? And which God rescues older people and children when they get asthma attacks after every Diwali?

I understand the skepticism in the minds of people. But it is not impossible. Smaller cities like Ranchi and Bhubaneswar have set up specific locations in the city where crackers can be sold. Some cities in China have completely banned the use of firecrackers – no exceptions, no by-laws. Even Mumbai has laws (at least on paper) that you cannot burst crackers on the roads.

Laws are the beginning of change. And when you fight the forming of laws, what change do you expect to see in the country?

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Unfortunately, Hinduism began as a religion that worshipped nature. Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, is a collection of hymns that praise nature as gods. In India, we worship the wind, water, oceans, trees, and hills.

And yet, come any festival, and we pollute like today’s the last day on earth. Like tomorrow morning Kalki Avatar is going to arrive on his white horse and wipe out everybody on the face of this planet.

Diwali? We celebrate Rama’s victory by dirtying our roads, scaring patients in hospitals, and inducing thousands of injuries from fire wounds. Holi? We throw toxic chemicals on each other, and decide to also colour dogs, cows and buffaloes. Ganesh Puja? We hail the God of Knowledge by doing the dumbest fucking thing on earth – dumping him in water bodies. Durga Puja? We worship The Mother by laying her to rest in filthy rivers and lakes.

THIS is our culture. We are a nation that loves to pollute. That loves to spread filth and celebrate it as our ‘rich’ culture. Ironically, all the fools who support firecrackers will shut their mouths and follow the laws of the land when they’re in a different country. But when in India…

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I find it sad when I see teenagers and youngsters talk about our rich heritage. When I see them reason that we have been bursting crackers for hundreds of years – why should we stop now? 

Well, times change. And we would be idiots not to change with it. Do you still wear dhotis, write letters in post cards, and travel in horse-drawn taangaas? Then what’s the problem in acknowledging a problem that is real, and getting worse by the year?

What is the reluctance in accepting change, in understanding that we cannot as a nation keep on polluting our air and rivers? What sort of a intellectually warped nation have we become that we cannot even see beyond our flaws as a nation?

What IS this culture that we keep celebrating??

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(Featured Image courtesy Flicker)