Delhi Stories: Power cuts, firecrackers and cheap Chinese trinkets - happy Diwali!

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The Independent Online

When India celebrates, take cover. This weekend the great Hindu festival of Diwali, India's new year and fireworks night rolled into one, has come around. And the city's youths appear to have taken the television pictures from Fallujah as a challenge: to prove that, armed with a few harmless but extremely loud firecrackers, Delhi can make more noise than the US army and Iraq's militants combined.

When India celebrates, take cover. This weekend the great Hindu festival of Diwali, India's new year and fireworks night rolled into one, has come around. And the city's youths appear to have taken the television pictures from Fallujah as a challenge: to prove that, armed with a few harmless but extremely loud firecrackers, Delhi can make more noise than the US army and Iraq's militants combined.

The Delhi authorities had insisted it would be different this year. Strict limits were placed on firecrackers. They had to be clearly marked with their decibel level, and no shop could sell one that made more than 125 decibels.

It didn't work. In my neighbourhood, the youths put on their own shock-and-awe campaign of deafening bangers that sent bursts of orange light into the sky. Then there was a fusillade of crackers that sounded like Kalashnikov fire.

Everyone puts on a display of fairy lights in their houses for Diwali, which is after all supposed to be the festival of light. Tiny lights shone like stars through the evening gloom - until the power gave out under the enormous load placed on it by the city.

But the lights were invisible long before that, under the thick pall of black smoke sent up by the volume of fireworks that had been detonated. Soon it filled my office, and had me coughing.

I tried to escape to the Imperial hotel, but the smoke had got there as well. "Oh but this is much calmer than Diwali used to be," the waiter reassured me.

¿ India's answer to Del Boy appears to be involved in Diwali. Delhi-ites have been troubled by a change to the small statues of the elephant-headed god Ganesh they traditionally buy at this time of year. Of late, the statues have started to look not quite right. They look, rather surprisingly, like pandas. And if you press a button they play Merry Christmas.

The wide boys of Old Delhi have admitted the truth behind this. Rather than buy the expensive genuine articles, they have been importing cheap Chinese Christmas gifts. The only problem is that the Chinese statues are in fact of pandas. So the Delhi Del Boys have just remodelled the heads, making them look a bit more like Ganesh. People are also puzzled as to why their Diwali lights play strange and unfamiliar music that sounds distinctly Chinese. It is: songs to mark the Chinese new year. Presumably part of a job lot with the Christmas pandas.

¿ Everyone knows that Delhi's sacred cows are the only exception to the city's traffic rules, which is that there are no rules.

Seatbelts are something to make a mime of wearing if a policeman is in view. Roundabouts are to be negotiated in either direction, whichever is the quickest route to your exit. And the idea of giving way is a good joke - unless it is to a cow. Delhi's taxis and rickshaws hurtle along the streets, weaving between buses and juggernauts as if the drivers believe themselves immortal. But no one wants to hit a cow: even if you don't believe it is holy, there well may be angry bystanders who do.

The problem is, the cows don't seem to understand traffic. They stroll nonchalantly into the middle of the road at the last minute, forcing rickshaws to swerve perilously around them. And today there are just too many cows about. The problem has got so bad in Gurgaon, one of Delhi's satellite suburbs, that the inhabitants are now asking the authorities to put up fences to keep the cows out.

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