Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Deepavali Firecrackers - II

A million bijli's later, my dad introduced me to weird crackers... They cannot be called crackers, because they were never fun. I don't know, but my dad religiously buys these every year.

Have you heard of "Snake" ? That is probably the worst thing that ever came out of Sivakasi. This "Snake" is just a couple of tablets, that comes in a matchbox sized tiny box. It needs to be placed on the ground, and when lit, some dark gray colored shit comes out. It looks ugly if not yucky. No, it does not make any sound or create bright flashes. It comes for about a min or two and then it runs out. Maybe girls like to play with such stuff, you know they always like to play with soft and crappy things. Any ideas girls? Do you girls run around it and sing songs or some such?

The "cape" is the next in the list. Maaan! how lame can one make a pistol? These are tapes with tiny explosive material which blow on impact. It is usually inserted in a special pistol and it blows one by one, when the hammer hits the tape. Not only does this pistol not throw any projectile, it blows and burns the hand. Terrible design. I have no idea who thought this might be a good idea, and why people buy this. I don't think even girls play with this. But I found some use for this otherwise lame ass cracker. Since it blows under pressure, if you drop some of these under the legs of the chair, it startles people when they sit on it. Trust me, even with my level of innovation, it was pretty lame.

Enough of talking of lameness. There are some awesome cool crackers: they are so awesome that the cracker was banned from production. I think it defines awesome coolness! I don't think any of our generation people would have seen a "vengaaya vedi" which literally translates to "onion plosive". I guess it must have looked like an onion. The awesome thing about it is, it does not have a fuse: it is pressure triggered. If you throw this on a wall, it explodes on impact! How cool is that? I mean... wow! Unbelievable! That should have been so much fun! But I have never even seen one of these. Older people... any ideas?

Rockets are cool too. But the thing is, cool rockets are way too expensive. If there is a very special rocket, which explodes into 4 or 5 colors, it is like... I lite it, and boom... there goes my thousand bucks. But, I was lucky. Our neighbours used to spend a ton of money on rockets. I go to the terrace, and just lie down to watch the sky light up in a million sparks. They used to buy many kinds of rockets, some whistle, some have one big bang and radiates into a huge sphere of tiny bombs, each of which again explodes, giving a real time fractal effect. But there was one kind of rockets which are very different. It goes up very high and just explodes without spitting any fire. The explosion is so powerful that I would feel the shock in my stomach a moment later. It always kept reminding me of anti-aircraft missiles. That is what I call, a man's play.

It was so much fun just knowing about these, and then seeing them all over the city. I have no idea if my kids would like them. The least I could do is, buy the stuff for my kids, and use it myself ! :)

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Deepavali Firecrackers - I

It has been 4 years since I celebrated Deepavali in India and I miss my celebrations. I have heard it from many people that it is about Narakasuran's vadham, and Rama's return to Ayodhya. To me, it was all about fireworks. But Deepavali in Madras is not as easy as celebrating NewYear, where you wish each other with a simple "Happy New Year" at midnight. Deepavali is very different and I used to wait the whole year for Deepavali. The only festival that has a special bang!

Firstly, it needs careful planning, finance and budgeting. My parents used to specify the budget for fireworks for that year, and I will meticulously plan accordingly. I do not remember exactly when I started this, but I am sure, it was how I came face to face with a complex economic phenomenon called inflation. It struck me when I realized I could buy only lesser stuff with the same amount of money in next year. Firecrackers are more commonly called just "crackers" in India.

The fireworks that we see over the Sydney (on 2004 Olympics) or other major occasion are great to watch. But for boys, anything that cannot be poked or touched is not worth a moment's attention. And boy are their different types of crackers. My father took it upon himself to teach me how each kind of cracker reacts and I was shown what precautions pertains to which one. Let me start with the ones I was introduced to, in chronological order.

First is the "flower pot", or "busvaanam", which sprays sparks in the air. It has to be lighted on the tip of the cone. The flower pot is one of the most common and the conical remnants can be seen all over Madras, like pimples on the roads. The second is the "chakram" or the "sudharshan chakram" which spins very fast on the ground and radiates golden sparks all around it. It looks like the sun itself in its bright glory.

Then comes the explosives, and in ascending order of its decibel level, the bijli vedi, the kuruvi vedi (sparrow explosive), lakshmi/nethaji vedi. These three had explosives packed with a wad of paper around it. The thicker the paper wad, the louder the bang. Then came the "bombs", these were also explosives (obviously), but supposedly had a bigger bang. They were bigger lumps of explosive sulphur packed tightly in a jute covering. All these were simple, single explosives.

Next in the arsenal is the "double shot", an adult only explosive. It acts pretty much like a anti-aircraft gun. It is actually two explosives packed into one. The first one goes off, and shoots the other live explosive in air and the second one explodes mid-air.

The "saram", is a braided chain of smaller explosives. The teeny tiny version of this is called "oosi vedi" (literally translates to needle explosive). A characteristic of these chains, is the salvo of explosions. These sarams, can be specially and can have as many as thousands of smaller bijlis. The sarams are notorious for the random flying live bijlis.

Starters form an important category. Sparklers or "poothiri", are metal rods with slowly burning chemical at the other end, but at extremely high temperatures. Only sparklers can be used to light flowerpots and chakrams. The other equally high temperature starter is called "saatai" meaning "whip" is a rope like roll of slow burning sulfur compound. These have too much fire power to light explosives.

It is safer to lite explosives with slow burning sticks, for which I have always used cheap incense sticks. Lighting of explosives is not easy. One has to carefully prepare the fuse ("thiri"). The paper covering the free end of the fuse has to be plucked off using the nails in the index finger and the thumb, then the chemicals stuck to the threads have to be rubbed off. I used to do it by hand, and getting dirty was part of the fun. This preparation is necessary to slow the fuse, and the longer the preparation, the longer is the time we get to move away from the cracker after lighting it. Once lit, the fuse burns slowly through the threads until the end of the preparation, after which it catches fast and bang!

Happy Deepavali!

To be continued...

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Moral fiber in foreign policy?

I had a very heated discussion with my close friend last night, and for a change this is was a very serious and mature discussion. After two hours of slapping arguments at each other, neither of us convinced the other to change their opinion. We agreed to disagree!

The discussion was about the upheaval about recent police brutality in Burma. The military junta, has an iron grip over the country and recently a peaceful rally by the Buddhist monks was dispersed using riot police. The police excesses were condemned by the leaders of the world. Subsequently, there were reports of police destroying Buddhist monasteries and committed crimes against humanity in these temples of peace.

These are terrible acts of violence, and has to stop!

Now, India shares its border with Burma, and has good trade relations with Burma. India supplies helicopters and small medium arms to Burma. It is a very unnerving, that India a peace loving country, supplies arms to a foreign Government that uses violence as a means to rule. India condemned the acts of violence but continues to supply arms to Burma. It looks like India is ready sell its soul for the sake of trade relations with Burma which gives strategic access to other countries in Southeast Asia and the far-East.

Many elite people and journalists are convinced that this is not how things should be, and they want India to follow the Arms Embargo issued by European Union and respected by the rest of the world.

India has traditionally had good relationship with Burma, and the trade relationship dates back to more than a thousand years.

My question here is, what are are trying to prove by stopping arms trade with Burma? Are we trying to prove to the world that we are against atrocities humanities will not be overlooked by the Indian Government?

A quick reminder here about our bloody past. About 2000 people were killed in Gujrat riots, and a few days back, 12 people were given life imprisonment (14 years in jail with chance of parole/remission after some period). I am completely flabbergasted that people are so agitated, that they are doing trade with a government that does this. But who are we really? What did we do to our people? Are we trying to show that we are suddenly very good at Governing our own people, that we start preaching our ideologies?

Second comes, EU and their ideologies. This is a real joke. If India feels like reacting to Burmese junta's activities, we will do it. We need not follow the EU. The EU might be a watchdog against many countries' activities, but India is a sovereign nation now and need not follow a Union of European nations.

India has a wonderful policy of non-alignment and the famous panch-sheel, states something, no western nation has followed.

India does not interfere in other countries' internal affairs.

The ridiculous nature of this idea of stopping trade with Burma is that, it is not going to make an iota of difference to Burma or its military government because Burma's main supplier of goods is China. So, the people interested in these kinds of foreign relation gimmicks are not really thinking about making a change, they just want to escape from the scene. They are creating a huge ruckus, to not help anyone but just to hog the media limelight.

That being said, the military Government is absolutely culpable for the atrocities, and the top brass will be personally held responsible! Their days are numbered!

What do you think?

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