Srilakshmi And A Little Firecracker

Friday, October 28, 2011

Srilakshmi stood stupefied, watching the blazing fire at a nearby fireworks factory. She was a 12-year-old, dark and skinny girl, with unwashed sun-bleached short hair, and dressed in an oversized, soiled salwar-suit, desperately waiting to be 14 so that she could also work and earn alongside her mother.

When her strong leg got tired, she squatted on the dirt-littered ground and kept watching the spectacle, without knowing that her mother was one of those trapped in that doomed factory.

The blaze was accompanied by thick white fumes, loud bursting noises, and crackers shooting up in various directions. Although it was the rainy month of August, the sky was clear that day. Such explosions and accidents were common in Sivakasi, a bustling town that manufactured 90% of all firecrackers for Diwali and other celebrations.

Srilakshmi had also suffered severe burns in a fire accident many years ago, which left her right leg disfigured. She had stopped going to school because other children teased her for her limp.

After sometime, the fire subsided like her mother's anger, and Srilakshmi resumed picking discarded plastic water bottles. When her rag-bag was full, she returned to her one-room shack of a home. A few hours later, her mother was also back. As soon as she entered, she shouted, “Do you know there was a fire in my factory? I escaped death today. I was stuck inside for hours.” The mother's dark brown sari was disheveled, so was her oiled hair.

Srilakshmi started crying loudly and limped towards her mother and then clung to her.

“God has saved me…,” her mother continued. “He saved me for you. Had I died, what would have become of you?”

While still hiccuping, Srilakshmi found a little red firecracker in the folds of her mother’s sari. She held it tightly in her hand.

Her mother went away to scramble dinner for the two of them. Srilakshmi sneaked to a corner with the firecracker in her hand. She sunk in the bedding. Her tears dried leaving distinct patches on her cheeks. The mother's presence in the room comforted her. With her eyes closed, she felt the little cylindrical firecracker in her hand when suddenly, tabhi achanak, she heard a tiny voice.

“God has saved me. I would have died today.”

Srilakshmi opened her hand, looked at the source of the voice, and asked, “Whaat?” Her mouth agape. It was the cracker in her hand which had uttered these words.

“I mean I was lucky, otherwise I would have also died in the blast. Stupid firecrackers! They just can not live in peace—always fighting, bickering, back-biting. Now so many of them have paid with their lives.”

“Did their fighting cause the fire?”

“Of course, yes. It started with an altercation between a Bomb and a Phooljhadi (Sparkler) and then everyone started the game of one-upmanship, making fun of each other’s physical appearance, slandering, and hurling insults.”

“Like the school children? Who make fun of my leg?”

“Yes… the Bomb would taunt in a demeaning way, ‘I am the king. All of you are tain tain phiss.’ The Phooljhadi called him a fat, ugly pig, and extolled her own beauty. The Anar or Flowerpot said he was the fountain of knowledge, all others were ignorant fools. One would think that the Rocket would have remained silent, but no, he dismissed others as lowly creatures and gandi naalee ke keede and stated that only he had a refined taste for high life. The cacophony grew louder and louder. They even called each other H**dus, M**lims, and Ch****ians. The ensuing scuffle produced sparks and then it was kind of a world war. Luckily, I got away without any injuries, though I was thrown away in an explosion. All of them perished in the inferno. When will the firecrackers learn to respect each others’ differences?” He sighed.

Even though Srilakshmi was lost in her own reverie, imagining a school where it was all right to be different than others and where no one made fun of her leg, she couldn’t help asking, “Aren’t all firecrackers supposed to be lit and burst on Diwali?”

“Shush…we don’t utter the D-word. I know everyone has to die one day, but why not live with love and harmony until then?”

“You are such an intelligent cracker.” Srilakshmi held it close to her heart and fell asleep.

She had a bizarre lucid dream that day. She saw that her beloved Firecracker had become a celebrity and was surrounded by reporters, who were asking him again and again about the factory fire, and he was repeating the same story.

In the last sequence of the dream that she remembered, a journalist asked the Firecracker if he had any message for the human beings.

To which he replied, “I want all human beings to continue fighting with each other. Please make more weapons of mass destruction. Someday there will be a fight among various types of nuclear bombs, which will be a celestial Diwali. All of you will then burn like firecrackers. It will end all your miseries and spare all other living and non-living beings from your atrocities—forever.”

Srilakshmi couldn’t believe her little friend could say all that. A pall of gloom descended on her. She was left heartbroken.


  1. A mesmerizing mixture of realism, mockery, witticism and allegory delivered in a gripping language. This has got to be the finest explosive I set my sight on this season.

  2. What a thoughtful post, full of metaphors and symbolism. Oh and I shunned fire-crackers about 11 years back, never liked them in the first place! Hope you had a good Diwali GB!

  3. Such a timely, apt, meaningful post...Kudos!

  4. wow...loved the way you presented it...
    human beings are insecure animals...
    no matter what, they will keep fighting...


  5. Was really intrigued right from the beginning...not just an interesting read, but text with real meaningful message...great job!

  6. @Umashankar, @Sammy, @Alka, @SUB, @Sangeeta:
    Thank you all for the encouraging words!! This was my attempt at fiction writing. I am still learning the ropes.

  7. Agree with all the readers. I was hooked. From line 1. Nicely written! :)

  8. So many messages in one story! I liked the way the story took a twist when the firecracker began talking. Till then I was thinking that some conventional ending was to follow :)

  9. I loved how tabhi acahanak changed the tone of the story.

    Poignant, funny - loved it.

  10. Gifted Giribals's Grist mill!just chanced upon your blog, and why do achanak se feel i'm going to be a regular visitor?

  11. Wow its beautiful the way a story can conceal a much deeper meaning. Loved the narration :)

  12. So much said with creative use of firecrackers and Diwali in the story. Beautifully done.

  13. @Preeti: thanks for reading :-)

    @Zephyr: I don't know whether including messages in a story is a good or a bad thing :-)

    @Purba: thanks!!

    @Na: Nice knowing you :-)

    @Rinaya: thanks !!

    @Shail: Good to hear from you! Thanks :-)

  14. Loved it giribala! Here from naren's blog - and am going to start devouring your remaining posts.

  15. Thanks Soumya! You will not be disappointed :-)

  16. If i were that firecracker, I would say this to the journalist, "Anyway, you callous humans are going to massacre us on the day of Diwali, so why do you have to make us look ugly by cropping our hairs before bursting - I mean, u humans, clip the threads in the crackers before bursting!!! That's embarrassing and please stop doing that,will you???"
    Great story and hilarious yet thoughtful ending....


  17. That is so apt, Sriramnivas! Firecrackers are eternally grateful for voicing their pain.


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