Diwali Festival: 900 Million People, One Party

The smoke has actually become an issue during Dawali festivals over the years. "There's been a lot of consciousness regarding the pollution," said Sanjiv Juneja, a resident of south Delhi, as his family lights small fireworks around him. "It used to be much worse." It's hard to believe him on that.

I've probably lit 150 firecrackers tonight. My favorite is called a ghetto rocket. Despite their $1 price tag, they actually fly quite well: One we set off flew 150 feet over two rows of homes and exploded over one of our neighbor's gardens (sorry).

These are not the fireworks of Disneyland. These are flimsy, erratic, cheap, legal and bought in areas of the city like Sadar Bazar and Chandni Chowk for pennies on the dollar.

The cheapest fireworks usually sell for about 10 cents; the most expensive can cost nearly $100. Some are quite unusual. The Gudiya New Crystal Magic firecracker, which costs about $6, emits light meant to look like gold coins, and is reusable afterward as an ashtray.

Each homeowner will light candles (or hang little plastic lights) to signify the triumph of good over evil. And they will send prayers to the Hindu goddess Lackshmi, who is supposed to bring wealth in the coming year.

It's like Christmas and July Fourth rolled into one.

Even President Bush sent a Diwali message. "This festival brings together family and friends and helps ensure rich traditions are passed on to future generations. Diwali is also an opportunity to celebrate the bonds of friendship between India and the United States. The lights of Diwali remind us to work together to build a brighter future for all," Bush said in a statement.

Just two years ago, Diwali celebrations were targeted by terrorists. So this year police stepped up their presence during the day, increasing foot patrols at malls and markets. And army soldiers were deployed at railway stations throughout the city.

And of course, the fire department is out in force -- as it should be. Because the explosions continue, the smoke is getting thicker, and it still sounds like a war zone.

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