Friday, November 09, 2007


"Papa! Papa! I want bomb!"

The wizened old man behind the makeshift counter gave the boy what he hoped was an encouraging smile. That's right, little boy, nag your father till he buys more fireworks for you. Let's see. Urban professional, upper middle class, early-30s. Not too rich. Probably lives in one of those apartment complexes nearby, the kind where everyone has to go up on the roof or down in the street to light fireworks because no one has balconies big enough. Perfect.

The argument between the father and the son seems to have reached a stand-off - the father saying "No" in his most authoritative voice, the son stamping his little feet and repeating "I want! I want!". Time to intervene.

"Sahab, why not let Baba have a few more fireworks if he really wants? See, I have this special item, very latest, Super Tiranga Bomb, only Rs. 200." He retrieves a cylindrical object from under the table, places it in front of the father. "What does it do?" the father asks, peering at it suspiciously. "Three explosions, sahab, three big explosions accompanied by sparks of orange, white and green - like a tiranga anaar - very loud, very patriotic". "Hmmm...and just Rs. 200 you said?". "Yes, Sahab, very latest item. First time this year. All children are having." "So, Rohan, what do you say? Do you want this?" The child nods his head vigorously. "Okay, then, but no more, all right - we've already got more than enough."

Ten minutes and some further negotiations between father and son later, the two leave. Watching them climb into their car and drive off, the fireworks seller can barely suppress a shudder. Oh, the ugliness of it all. Still, that's one family that will be getting their come-uppance soon.

Dr. Shyam Prasad has always hated fireworks. The noise, the smoke, the rowdiness, the bad manners; the sheer idiocy of the whole thing really, with its atavistic fascination with fire. And the risk. It was a miracle more people didn't get hurt during Diwali, more property didn't get burnt. Every time Diwali came around Dr. Prasad would lock himself up in his flat, switch off all his lights and bury his head in a pillow, nursing a headache brought on by loud noise and suffocation, trying to drown out the artillery of sounds outside.

For a while, it had seemed that things were getting better. Work by child labor and environmental activists had triggered a downturn in firework use and a few Diwalis in between had seemed marginally quieter, but the madness seemed to be coming back. And Dr. Prasad couldn't take it anymore.

That's why he'd come up with this scheme. It was ridiculously easy when you thought about it. Putting the explosives together hadn't been hard - he had a PhD in Chemistry, after all, and the basic materials were freely available. Once the bombs were ready, disguising them as firecrackers had been simple too - just a lot of tacky wrapping paper and a cheesy label he'd peeled off a consignment of genuine fireworks. As for selling, he'd simply caught the train to Delhi, bought a cheap folding table to set up his stall, paid some hafta to the local police, and he was all set. Every day he moved to a new location, so as to spread out the impact of the blasts, spending the entire week leading up to Diwali at it. The real fireworks, which he'd had to buy large quantities of, so as to make his stall into a bona fide operation, had been rather expensive, but he'd managed to sell most of his stock, and besides, it was worth it.

The risk of his being caught was miniscule. Not that it mattered much now that Mrinalini was dead. No one was going to suspect a 66 year old chemistry professor of being behind a series of bomb explosions in the city. They were sure to blame some terrorist outfit or the other. And even if some of the people who'd bought the 'firework' remembered who they'd brought it from (and that was unlikely enough), how would they ever trace him? He had no fixed location, there were no records. He didn't even live in the city, so it was unlikely they'd ever see him again, even by accident. And besides, who paid attention to fireworks sellers anyway? Who remembered the vendor's face, his features? And who would be able to recognize, in a dignified University professor, the semblance of a shabbily dressed street merchant? There was a small risk that someone may set off one of his bombs early, before Diwali proper, and the news may get out, but he figured by selling it as a 'special item' he would ensure that most people would save it for the big night.

As he sat back and waited for his next customer, his mind dwelt on the father and son who'd just left, imagining them lighting fireworks two days from now. Imagined the eagerness of the child, the father's laughing acquiescence, the mother's trivial cautions. Imagined them taking out the cylinder of high explosive he'd just sold them, setting a match to its wick, then drawing back, but not far enough, never far enough. Imagined the bomb going off, shrapnel everywhere, the blast taking out not only the family itself but also the other people playing with fireworks nearby. Imagined the screaming voices, the shattered limbs, the blood. And imagined the same scene playing itself out again and again, all over the city. Who would realize? Who would notice? All the city would hear would be another loud explosion. And even when they saw the damage they wouldn't believe it was a bomb at first. They'd think it was some kind of freak accident. It would be hours before someone would piece it together, figure it out. And then what? No one was going to be sitting indoors watching the news on Diwali night. How long before the news spread, before people were warned? How many people would find out in time? How many of the 200 bombs he'd sold would never be lit? How many would be lit but would fail to go off? Say half of them worked - say a 100 bombs, each killing or wounding, say, three people on the average. Say half of those 300 people were children.

Leaning back in his chair Dr. Shyam Prasad smiled in satisfaction. There would never be fireworks for Diwali again.

P.S. Happy Diwali Everyone!


Anonymous said...

whoa- first you write a post that doesnt seem insync with the festive spirit and then you actually wish bush apologizing for iraq war. Falstaff, for a change you could have posted something that ends on a happier, joyous note.
Anyhow, wish u a happy and prosperous diwali.

Space Bar said...

what a ghoul you are!

what you really needed to do to make this whole thing really effective was to tack on a "Bah! HUmbug" after you wished everyone HD.

??! said...

I'd remark appreciatively on the inventiveness of the thought, if I wasn't more concerned that there might just be some religious-types out there who would use the same tactic, for a far scarier and stupider reason.

Falstaff said...

anon: "Like bush apologizing for iraq war." Not at all. I was being sarcastic - a concept I seriously doubt George W. is capable of grasping.

As for happy, joyous endings - notice that I don't actually say the plot will work or show the bombs going off (which I could have done easily enough). Maybe someone will catch him before anything happens. Maybe he's fixed them all wrong so they won't explode at all. Maybe he's not a chemistry professor at all, but just some random demented fireworks vendor daydreaming in frustration.

space bar: Yes, totally. But surely the "Bah! Humbug" is implied?

??!: It's not really that inventive, is it? It's always struck me as being incredibly obvious (I mean the damn things are even called Bombs, for crying out loud). From my perspective this whole Diwali firecracker thing is just a security nightmare waiting to happen. I can only assume that the actual chemistry involved in putting these bombs together is too difficult, which is why no one's done it. Yet.

??! said...

inventive for back-story, not concept. should've clarified.

and yes, it is scary. It's a wonder more goondas don't use it - far more effective than hockey sticks, no?

frissko said...

boy that was morbid!!...i share the fears of '??!'...but i did like the plot, the way one likes dark movies...(the past few diwali posts i read wished that the festival of lights light up my life blah blah et al, and then i had to come and read this...sigh!)...

One Trick Pony said...

hahahha - the malevolently gleeful "Happy Diwali everyone!" was just great.

Aishwarya said...

I actually thought of this and decided to turn it into a short story this afternoon. Sigh.

Er. Happy diwali.

Confused & Baffled said...

oh god. that was roald dahl-esque in execution. bloody dark and bloody scary. i kept thinking it would be simplified to something else in the end or something, but then it didnt.

Anonymous said...

ok am surprised no one has asked this yet...come on confess was the choice of the Hindu name au naturel?


Falstaff said...

??!: Back story? Really? Interesting.

frissko: Yes, posts like that are precisely the reason this was written.

OTP: Glad you like it. You realize this puts you firmly in the curmudgeon class as well, yes?

aishwarya: Really? Well don't let this stop you.

c&b: No, no. If I'd been writing this at some other point it may have ended up happily, but I couldn't very well write a happy diwali post now could I? I have a reputation to keep up, you know.

aditya: Errr...I guess. I wasn't thinking of it as a 'Hindu' name, I just picked the first name that popped into my head. Somehow small town chemistry professors just need to be named Shyam Prasad, no?

LostLittleGirl said...

Wonderfully bizarre. Autobiographical? Hee hee

Anonymous said...

autobiographical..hope ur dissertation is not on this post...or is this what you were actually doing at the 'firm' building up your soft skills..ahem ahem.

Anonymous said...

Hi! My name is Project 71. Weird name I know, but my masters are weird too. My masters apologize for such an out-of-context comment and they know how painful such spamlike comments are. But, say masters, how else are we to present something good to the world. By that they mean me :D. Kindly see what I am about. Won't take you more than 22s to read... Enjoyy!

Goli said...

I liked the story, especially the twist with the bomb introduction.

Actually am feeling scared that how it is to mix bombs with fire crackers and cause havoc

rs said...

oh thank you for spreading the festival spirit :)

Gammafunction said...

I am seeing this after Diwali! You are an evil man.I would rather blog about fire-crackers in school.

Falstaff said...

lostlittlegirl: Yes and no. I share Dr. Prasad's sentiment on fireworks but would never, obviously, go as far as he does to stop them. After all, I love little children. Really.

anon: Nah, my dissertation's unlikely to go BOOM! and kill a few hundred people (more's the pity).

goli: Thanks.

rs: You're welcome.

gammafunction: *evil laugh*

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

Happy Diwali, sicko!

m. said...

hmm. i'd rather leave terrorist attacks on children out of reality and fiction. too plausible for comfort. fiction has a nasty way of becoming faction!

oh yeah... and happy diwali. hope you hogged a lot of sweets! :)

Dil Dhoondtha Hai said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dil Dhoondtha Hai said...

oh..please tell me you don't have a phd in chemistry??

Hari Shenoy said...

freaky and scary. But freshly innovative and worthy of respect.

Good stuff, I say.