Since the age of ten, Mohammad Iqbal has been rolling cones, filling it with cracker powder and decorating them with coloured paper before finally loading it in vehicles and taking it to the markets. He is 65 now and the smell of gunpowder and cardboard still excites him.
“Making crackers is our family business. Everyone in our family has been trained in it since they were very young. We have successfully survived in the market despite competition from international companies,” claimed Iqbal who was smeared with cracker dust as he sat filling pencils — a type of cracker popular among children.
The ‘crackers factory’, which had humble beginnings in shed and a few workers, today stands across an acre of land in Faridpur near Ghaziabad — a number of similar sized sheds with aluminium roofing and walls made of baked dung.
In 2003, around three sheds made of thatched roof, accidently caught fire while the crackers were being tested. Since then the family has learnt their lesson and roofs were replaced with aluminium.
“Safety is the first concern while working in cracker factories. Not just material damage but the lives of many people can be in danger if things are not done as per method,” said Iqbal without raising his eyes from the cracker he was preparing.
The trade starts picking up from Ganesh Chaturthi and continues through the festive season. The orders start pouring in during Dussehra, Eid and Diwali. Apart from this, weddings and birthdays also call for crackers. At some private ceremonies, Iqbal is invited to entertain the audience with fireworks.
Iqbal has an international reputation for lavish firework shows. He has performed in countries like Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Safety during such occasions is top priority. He supervises the preparation of the crackers and set them off himself with the assistance of his sons.
“We sell a small portion of what we make in shops, the rest of it is used for orders where we go to the venue and organize fireworks. We only hire workers for making the mould of the crackers. Family members do the rest,” he added.
Though Chinese crackers have taken over the Indian market, putting local workers and sellers out of business, Iqbal reiterates that no cracker from the international souk can match the skill with which Indian crackers are made.
“People like me have mastered the craft of making crackers and can assure that every cracker will bring joy for the buyer. We do not compromise with quality and hope the government will do their bit in promoting people like us,” he said.