| The crowd watches a tubri break into a shower at the New Alipore contest. Picture by Sudeshna Banerjee
“Now we present Swarger Kachhakachhi,” the announcer blares into the microphone. A buzz goes around as the competitor walks up to the middle of the New Alipore ground. And as the sparks of the tubri shoots high into the moonless post-Kali puja sky, ‘up to the very heavens’, the buzz breaks into applause.
Welcome to the fifth Basan Tubri Protijogita, organised by Sahapur Smriti Sangha. Fireworks competitions, once a familiar affair in every para during Kali puja, have now shrunk to a handful, thanks to myriad restrictions on firecrackers. But a band of faithfuls has kept the tradition alive in some isolated pockets of the city. The New Alipore club is part of the band, as are a couple of organisations in Behala.
“We started this competition about 12 years ago to keep alive a tradition,” says Arun Chattaraj, secretary of Behala Agrasi club which also hosts a Kali puja on the grounds near the Siriti crematorium. The contestants come mostly from the districts, he points out.
According to joint secretary Samiran Sarkar, lack of open space in the city is the biggest damper on tubri contests. “So many flourishing events of our youth have had to fold up due to encroachments on the land they were held on,” he says. A ground of 30-40 sq feet is required to safely set a tubri ablaze. After all, with the winning entries rising above 100 feet, the audience has to be kept at a safe distance from the descending shower of sparks.
Another risk to guard against is the bursting of the clay shells after the tubri burns itself out. “In our first year, a child was injured by a splinter. Since then, we erect a fence to keep people away,” Sarkar says.
Anti-cracker raids too have hit the amateur tubri-makers hard. “We are told that tubris are allowed, sulphur is not. But sulphur is the most vital ingredient of all fireworks,” complains Somnath Jana, alias Kori Diye Kinlam, busy mixing the masala for the next round.
Recounts Dipak Panja (or Rohini) from Ariadaha, who has sacrificed new clothes this Puja to foot the tubri bill: “I was travelling to Sonarpur for a contest. The police caught me at the station and demanded Rs 2,000. The bargain was settled at Rs 200 and they let me off without seizing my bag of ingredients. This is just a money-making ploy.” Such hurdles discourage people from taking up the hobby, he says. An expense of around Rs 2,200 is involved in making a dozen tubris, the number required for a contest.
At the contests, however, all problems and peeves take a backseat. Prestige is what is at stake for the contestants who register under colourful names — Laden Ashchhey, Sabai Paarey Ami Keno Paarina, Upore Bhagaban Nichey Panchayat Prodhan, Shyambazarer Sashibabu, Gublu Gablu Dot Com...
“We start preparations two-three months in advance. The prize, be it a cash award or a cycle or a transistor, is secondary to the honour,” says Manju Rudra, who has travelled all the way from Madhyamgram with her brother.
As the clock ticks on, more names are registered, claiming supremacy in both categories —height and expanse of the shower. “The list will soon cross 30,” smiles Santanu Dey, on behalf of the organisers.
It is the pride in the winning habit and the addiction to the shower of sparkles that keep the tubri tale going.