THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A group of women at a cracker manufacturing unit at Nanniyode near Palode are engaged in one of the toughest jobs this season. That is, making the locally popular ‘olapadakkam’, a type of traditional cracker made by carefully wrapping the gunpowder in dried palm leaves.
Their expert fingers are continuously racing against the deadline to give you that perfect cracker to make this year’s festival of lights memorable. Despite the risks involved, these skilled traditional cracker makers are hoping for better sales this time. The pandemic had dampened the sales last year.
“I started making olapadakkams while I was studying in Class VIII to help my family of traditional cracker makers. Later on, I also started working in this field to earn a livelihood. There is no particular season that we make these crackers as we have business all time of the year with temple festivals and other celebrations. However, we were out of work due to the pandemic last year. After sitting idle for almost six months, we are now back in business,” says Sheeba, a worker at a family-run cracker unit at Nanniyode.
Babu S, who runs Annie Anu Fireworks and has a firecracker manufacturing unit close to his residence, recounts, “There was a time when olapadakkam, pookkutty (flower pot) and light-based sparklers in hues of red, green and yellow sold like hot cakes during the festive season. However, the scenario is different now.”
“With curbs on the high-decibel crackers and more push for green crackers that emanate less smoke and pollution, the demand for traditional varieties such as olapadakkam has decreased. Though we didn’t have much sales last year, we hope for a brisk business this time,” shares Babu, as he dries palm-leaf crackers before final packaging.
Ten women employed at Babu’s cracker unit have been making the olapadakkam over the past several years. Explaining about the challenges in the field, Babu says, “Changing weather conditions such as high humidity and rainfall can affect cracker manufacturing. If crackers are not dried properly, they cannot be used. The recent rain that lashed the district has affected cracker making. We had to stop work for some days.”
Sreekrishna Fire Works, another popular manufacturer and dealer of crackers in the district, has also come up with both the locally-manufactured cracker varieties and some unique sparklers brought from Sivakasi. “My family has been into this business for more than 37 years. We make sales of up to `5 lakh during the Deepavali season. However, the pandemic dampened the sales last year. This year, we hope there will be better sales and have brought new varieties. However, we are uncertain about the sales,” says owner Sasi C.
More than 500 families in Nanniyode depend on the cracker manufacturing business for livelihood. But they were left in a helpless situation after the pandemic outbreak and the units had to be shut down. “Food supplies were provided to our workers even when there was no work,” said Sasi, who is also the state vice-president of the Kerala Fireworks Association.
Fifty-eight-year-old Vijayamma who works at the manufacturing unit of New Fair Fire Works at Annakuzhi says, “It has been just two years since I started working at this unit although I have been in this field for 10 years. Earlier, I used to work at a unit near Nanniyode. Our children are not ready to take up this work due to the risk involved and the lack of financial security. However, I am able to sustain myself with the income I get by making these crackers.”
The situation is no different in Pozhikkunnu, another hub of cracker manufacturing units on the outskirts of the city that cater to festive seasons. Apart from Devi Fireworks run by Jinju S S, grandson of famed fireworks master Pozhikkunnu Ashan, there are more than 200 families that depend on the cracker business for livelihood.
Sreekantan Nair of V S Fire Works at Pozhikkunnu has been into the business for the past 42 years. He says, “The Puttingal temple tragedy that occurred in Kollam in 2016 was a huge dampener for us. The restrictions imposed subsequently affected us. Crackers priced at Rs 10 to Rs 1,000 have been kept for sale. However, we have bought less quantity this time from Sivakasi since the cost of crackers has gone up.”
Eye on festivals
More than 500 families in Nanniyode depend on the cracker manufacturing business for livelihood
After the pandemic dampening the sales last year, traditional cracker makers are hoping for better business this Deepawali
With curbs on the high-decibel crackers and more push for green crackers, the demand for traditional varieties as such has decreased
The price of firecrackers have gone up this year as rising fuel prices has affected the rate of raw materials
After losing business last year, traditional cracker-makers in the district wish they will have good sales this time and race to beat deadline with Deepavali around the corner. They pray rain and pandemic don’t play spoilsport again