Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Salebhai Essabhai’s father was also a fireworks supplier. After his father’s death however, he branched out, leaving the Jama Masjid shop to his brother, and setting up his own on Mohammed Ali Road in 1938. His sons Mohammadbhai Salebhai and Yusufbhai Salebhai took over after him. Since Yusufbhai’s death in 1992, his two sons, with Mohammadbhai and his sons own Mumbai’s largest fireworks outlet.
“Quality and safety,” Abdullah Ghia states simply as the only reasons for Essabhai Fireworks’s success. “We obtain our stock from a select five factories out of Sivakasi’s 500, and are strict with our suppliers about both.” Ghia, the aged but agile main manager and spokesperson at this concern, has been with it for over a quarter of a century. While an approximately 400 square feet area in the shop front is used for display, a far larger area behind stocks it’s vast and varied supply. “This includes fuljharis, anars, chakris, atom bombs, ladis, the ‘multishot’ (setting off balls of fire into the air),” Ghia lists. “But in the last 10 years aerial fireworks make up maximum sales.”
Besides the urban Indian’s increased purchasing power, Ghia gives the crackdown on noisy firecrackers as a reason for this trend shift. Another change is the same sparklers, flower pedals and chakris being made bigger, and their light flowing in diverse shades of green, red and blue. Fireworks manufacturers use interesting names and packaging to market their products. While names range from bizarre labels like Paradise 250 and Ulta Pulta to politically concerned ones like Euro 2 and Tehelka.com, packaging has for long been based on a popular cinema star’s image, depending on where the product will be sold. “But even this is changing,” Ghia tells us. “Earlier a heroine’s image was the rage. Today it’s cartoon characters and international film posters.” Sivakasi hosts India’s most prolific fireworks and printing industries side by side, facilitating such digital (mis?)representation.
“Many prosperous families send their children abroad for education, but Essabhai’s doesn’t,” says Ghia. “So they can learn and carry on the traditional business.” While choosing to remain silent on Essabhai’s true turnover, he complains about the crores attributed to them in profit being a gross mis-estimate: “Our prices range from Rs 1500 to just Rs 10 per item. While the inflation rate increases yearly, you’ll see the prices of our basic products have increased only minimally over the last 20 years.” He adds that there are many shops now selling fire works around the year, in their own area, thus cutting into their demand. “But we have no expansion plans. This shop was and is our focus.”
Ghia, due to his position, has often found himself in the hot seat, fending off attacks on the fireworks industry. “To celebrate with sound is a uniform Indian custom,” he says when talking on the ban on firecrackers after 10, and points to the Mohammad Ali Road flyover outside. “That flyover traps all traffic noise in
the streets—whereas earlier it used to escape into the air. You’ll find such instances all over the city. And this noise pollution is continuous. Why not look there?” On the extravagant expenditure fireworks have caused, he says, “Boxes of mithai are expenditure —because you don’t really need them.” So are foreign brands, he adds, and atleast expenditure on fireworks translates into employment for Indians. On Sivakasi thus becoming a hub for exploitation of the poor, he reasons, “Would you rather have them starve?” On the immense pollution aerial fireworks cause, he retorts that cars in the city are causing more. When we ask him why for every problem, he’s only provided a starker counterpart, Ghia ends the conversation as he self proclaimedly does most: “Fireworks make the young and old, the rich and poor very happy. Be it Diwali, Eid, a cricket match victory or a wedding, people will always look to celebrate their happiness with something beyond regular life.” He then asks us if we have a better option.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/bxar