A Day in The Life of A Fireworks Fair

fireworks
The annual fireworks fair at Island Grounds, Chennai, received a lukewarm response this year. Photo: Kirthika S
CHENNAI, OCTOBER 17: Amudha will not be celebrating Deepavali this time. She will work the entire day tomorrow, clearing up the debris that collects outside the temporary stalls set up for the sale of fireworks at Island Grounds, Chennai. She is from Aththur, a town in the Salem district of Tamil Nadu, and has travelled to Chennai to work as a cleaner on the Grounds during the 10-day fair.Her work at the fair starts at 8 a.m., when she clears up any remaining garbage that may be lying around, and ends at 10 p.m. She has only a lunch break in between, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.“I will have to work here till tomorrow night. I will travel back to Salem after that”, she rues. “I miss being with my children, and this is heightened because I’m not going to be there with them for Deepavali. I feel lonely.”Amudha decided to let her emotions ride pillion when she made the decision to forego celebrating the festival with her children.“I am the sole breadwinner of my family, my husband takes up coolie work only occasionally. I have three daughters and a son, and they have to be fed, clothed, and educated. We need this money.”She is paid Rs. 400 per day by the vendors who have hired her.“I can’t even buy new clothes and crackers for my children this time”, her eyes well up as she watches a couple coax their children away from the cracker shops.

. . .

Back in the stalls, the mood is not very different from the overcast sky. R. Munusamy, the proprietor of Krishnaveni Fireworks, Sivakasi, has been selling at the fair for six years now, apart from being in the business for 14 years. His factory ships fireworks to many states in India. He says that sales have dipped in the last two years, and that the rains are to blame (Chennai is expected to have a wet Deepavali this year). “This year is still better than last year,” he explains, “Last year we lost a lot of stock due to heavy rains.”He says that people haven’t ventured out to buy crackers in the city as it has been raining in the past two days and that the prediction of rain on Deepavali has also stopped people from buying crackers.“Why would they spend Rs. 5,000 to buy crackers and not use them? From their point of view, it doesn’t make sense”.The least expensive product is the Bijli Vedi, priced at Rs. 10 per pack, and the most expensive is the Panorama 500 Shots cracker, priced at Rs. 15,000 per piece.The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is also a dampener for the sellers. The sellers pay GST on procurement but do not work it into their selling prices, because they do not want to discourage buyers. Shankar, the proprietor of SRM Traders, wholesalers of fireworks based in Chennai, says that he is not very optimistic about making profits.“We do not collect GST on sales. Couple it with reduced sales due to rains and we have a clear indication of loss.”Each vendor pays approximately Rs. 2,50,000 to Rs.3,00,000 as rent for the stalls for the ten days. “We pay it out of the sales we make here”, Shankar adds.  . . . 
The Standard Fireworks stall seems to attract the most number of buyers. One can see a bunch of men in canary yellow polo neck t-shirts, with the Standard Fireworks brand on it. 58-year-old Shahul Hameed, an employee, stands outside the stall calling out to people as they walk past, asking them to check out the stall. He takes up this job every year with the fireworks giant.“I do many odd jobs to earn my keep. Retirement didn’t suit me, I realised I hate being idle. I earn Rs.10,000 for working here for 10 days”, he says. Once the fair is over, it is back to routine for him—he lends a hand at his son-in-law’s plastic bag shop in Parrys Corner. He says that the dip in sales is majorly due to GST.“The 28% tax has increased the prices of our products, and most people are not willing to shell out that kind of money”, he says.He also sheds some light on how this affects sellers, the labour involved, and people like Amudha.“Lesser profits mean lower salaries for us and lower wages for the cleaners”, he says.Watching a young boy point to the biggest box of crackers on the rack, Hameed observes wistfully that Deepavali celebrations in the city have scaled down. “It used to be grander, and more fun back then. I think it had a lot to do with affordability. My grandchildren will never experience the kind of fun I did as a boy during Deepavali.”
According to a report by The Hindu, K. Mariappan, secretary, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association, said that the firecracker industry was on the verge of collapse due to the measures taken to control pollution. He also added that “the production has been reduced by half” compared to last year due to demonetisation, high GST and the banning of firecrackers in several States.

Published by Kirthika Soundararajan

Journalism student. Loves animals. Aspires to write about history, art, culture, and people.

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