Uncle Crackers: The Guy in Every Neighbourhood Who Gets Turned On By Laxmi Bomb


Uncle Crackers: The Guy in Every Neighbourhood Who Gets Turned On By Laxmi Bomb

Illustration: Arati Gujar

It’s that time of the year again, when my roommate’s asthma is acting up and twitchy stray dogs walk around the streets with haunted expressions. Those two things, along with the sound of rassi bombs being detonated at 7.30 am can only mean one thing – it’s Diwali, the festival of crackers. It used to be the festival of lights, but who are we kidding? The lights are now all made in China, so let’s celebrate the typically Indian aspect of every festival: Generating more sound pollution than a Himesh Reshammiya concert on religious holidays.

Thankfully, crackers are not able to burst themselves. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people ready and willing to do the honours. They are led by their king, Uncle Crackers. There’s an Uncle Crackers in every neighbourhood, housing society, and gali across the country, waiting for the one time of the year he can allow his inner pyromaniac out to play. For most of the year, he blends in, probably playing gully cricket with younger lads on Sunday (only batting, never fielding), or hanging out at the cigarette shop talking about politics with the shopkeeper. But come Diwali, and he’s easily identifiable as the maniac standing in the middle of the street with lit bottle rockets in his hand.

Uncle Crackers is, at his core, an attention-seeker. He doesn’t care if it takes five trips to the market, each return journey made with a trunk full of crackers that cost as much as a used car, he wants to be noticed. Sadly for him, his personality is probably so one-dimensional that he needs a literal firework display to get people to pay him any attention. There was an Uncle Crackers in my building while I was growing up; all year round, he’d stand at the bhelwala’s stand on the footpath and offer advice on our batting stance or bowling run-up while we played cricket, and we ignored him worse than Bollywood A-listers ignored the #MeToo movement. But every Diwali, for two days before and after the actual festival, he would light a 1,000 cracker loom before the sun had even set, as if to say, “Can ya punks hear me now?!”

As the big day draws closer, I’ve been seeing many Uncle Crackers asserting their claims to the throne.

Like every other Uncle Crackers in history, the one in my building treated bursting crackers like a proud soldier would treat armed combat – he had to be the first to arrive on the field of battle, and the last to leave it. Long after everyone else had gone home, he could be heard setting off rockets, until the sound of his merrymaking was finally interrupted by the sound of his wife berating him for drinking too much and dragging him home. I think she was jealous, because he never looked at her with the same fervent passion that he did his collection of Standard Fireworks.

I’ve moved away from home, but I’m sure Uncle Crackers is still there, wearing his off-white kurta and gold chain, and putting on a show nobody asked for. Even if he were to stop, a new Uncle Crackers would rise to take his place, because those are the unwritten laws of Diwali. In the circle of life, for every environmentally conscious, diya-lighting reveller who advocates for a firework-free Diwali, there is an Uncle Crackers waiting to tell you how much he spent on fireworks this year with such enthusiasm you know what brand of whisky he drinks.

As the big day draws closer, I’ve been seeing many Uncle Crackers asserting their claims to the throne. Just last night, around 10.30 pm, amid the sound of rockets and bombs bursting, I heard a child crying. I rushed to my window to see what happened, only to spot a sleepy boy begging an Uncle Crackers to take him home. Uncle’s response? To push the kid away from the tadatadi he had just lit.

It’s Uncle Crackers’s effect on children which is actually his most deadly attribute. He is rarely spotted without a gaggle of pre-teens gawking at his antics. At an age before they learn about the harmful effect fireworks have on the environment, when the lights and sounds are enough to bedazzle them, Uncle Crackers manages to convince a few of the kids in his audience that lighting crackers is fun. In doing so, he ensures the continuation of his species, as one of his disciples is likely to grow up and become an Uncle Crackers in their own right.

So this Diwali, when you spot a lunatic lingering too close to the fiver anars he’s lit at the same time, don’t judge him too harshly, for he wasn’t always an Uncle Crackers. And then, cross the street, because sympathetic figure or not, nobody likes getting burned on Diwali.