Monday, March 12, 2007

Smoking

A reader of my column in the paper, who was routed to my blog, wrote to me recently. After complimenting me for my writing, she gently reminded me that my picture on the blog shows me smoking and that I should remove it. She is obviously a well-wisher, and I am grateful to her for her pointing out my vice. How I wish I could oblige her, but I can't, for reasons technical and emotional.

The technical bit: I am not very good with templates, and it was with great difficulty, and with the help of fellow bloggers, that I could get the size of the picture right. Any attempt to remove or replace it could result in my spending hours on the template, and I am in no mood to do that. Moreover, I am a smoker, so what's wrong in posing with a cigarette?

I had, however, not intended to pose with a cigarette. I had just bought the laptop, and along with it came a free webcam. I was experimenting with the cam, posing in front of it, and the picture I liked the most happened to be self-clicked at a time when I had just lit a cigarette. So it stayed, and still stays, and will continue to stay till my looks get drastically altered. The picture was taken when I was nearing 35, and it would unfair to keep it there when I am 40.

After all, I don't wish to be the man who once came to my office to hand over a book to be reviewed. "It is a collection of my musings," the man said politely as he extended the book. On the cover was the picture of a man in his early 40's -- long hair, wearing a safari suit, and striking a pose with his hands on the waist. But the man who stood in front of me was old: bald and shrivelled. "Is that you?" I asked him. He looked embarrassed but nodded. What a way to cling on to youth!

I don't wish to do that. I promise to replace the picture well before I am 40, and that's four years away. Till then, I shall be seen smoking, and like to be seen smoking, and that's because I like smoking! I know it might be killing me, but what the hell. Abstaining from it promises a healthy life only in the long run, but has anyone ever seen the future from the point called 'present'?

For now, a bit of the past. I began smoking when I was 19 -- barely weeks after I drew a cartoon for an anti-smoking contest. I got a letter from the National Health Association of India, saying my cartoon has made it to the top ten, and that I should be in Delhi on such and such date when the top three would be judged. I had my exams, so my parents went; and it was in their absence that I smoked my first cigarette. Perhaps, as divine punishment, I could not make it to the top three; but my parents returned with a booklet that contained my cartoon as well. I was an amateur smoker by then, smoking Wills Navy Cut -- but only sucking the smoke into mouth and letting it out. That way, I could taste the tobacco, and it tasted to good -- I felt like a man!

I became a proper smoker at 20, when I could inhale the smoke right into the lungs. The moment I took a drag, my head would begin to float, and that was the kick. I would smoke only one or two cigarettes a day, and my brand was Charms. The denim packet looked sexy and the cigarette was cheap: 40 paisa a piece I think. Wills Navy Cut cost 75 paisa and Gold Flake kingsize 90. And my first vendor was an old woman -- we called her "Amma" -- who ran a shop in the form of a small wooden box, not very far from my place. Every evening, a friend and I would walk down there and smoke a cigarette each. After which we could beg her for a clove each, and chewing on them slowly, would walk back. Something that made us look foward to evenings. Rest of the day we were supposed to be preparing for engineering entrances.

I became a journalist soon after, and now I had the money to smoke. I graduated to Wills Navy Cut. I smoked about 10 a day. Till the early 20's, you tend to ape your seniors and idols, and they all smoked. My favourite hero then was Jackie Shroff, and his career began only after he had modelled for Charminar. (I never missed a movie of his those days -- truly a macho man). Vinod Khanna smoked. Kabir Bedi smoked. All dashing men. One of my deepest desires was to model for a cigarette brand (perhaps the desire has -- albeit unintentionally -- manifested itself in the profile picture). And then when I desired to be a writer, I found out almost all my heroes smoked -- Dom Moraes, my biggest hero at the time, was a chain smoker. I really don't mind dying of throat cancer if I could produce a book like My Son's Father.

A few years later, as my salary increased, I switched to Gold Flake kings. That remains my brand even today. When I started smoking it, a packet cost Rs 15 or so, and I smoked about 10. Today, it costs Rs 38 and I smoke about.. well, it's a scary figure.

Anyway, those days it wasn't so scary because there were so many smokers around, and that was comforting. Moreover, no one looked down upon you -- today they look at smokers as if they are soaked in sewage water. How quickly it became politically incorrect to be a smoker. And only a few decades ago, the highly-respected and respectable-looking Hemant Kumar would be lighting cigarettes right in the middle of a recording. He believed the smoking gave his voice a grainy effect.

Today, only Shah Rukh Khan has the stature to defy the politically-correct world. But he is not the kind who would inspire me to smoke. Jackie Shroff would. Vinod Khanna would. Kabir Bedi would. Dom Moraes would. Hemant Kumar would. But these people are either past their prime or dead. I guess I should quit now. Or maybe restrict myself to just two cigarettes a day: post-lunch and post-dinner. Actually make that three: how can I forget post-coital, my most favourite smoke!

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let the cigarette industry prosper...they wud be ever indebted to u for making smoking a macho thing again..we were fast forgetting that. :-)

bhamsblog said...

no light on women smokers, then in journalism when u started out, and now?

Gauravonomics said...

Hey, your post reminded me of my own post on smoking. Have a look.

Anu Russell said...

Ya...quit smoking...do yourself and others good :)

Anonymous said...

irritating, not amusing.

Anonymous said...

Is it true that smokers end up needing viagra ? And viagra comes with the warning that HEADACHE could be a side effect. When your head aches, do you say "...honey, I have a head ache now.." or go ahead and use up what is up anyhow ? Would the head ache continue when your habit demands that cigarette ? Life is tough for smokers !

Anonymous said...

Wow ! Nothing to beat a smoke while in the twenties .
I quit at 40 but i enjoyed smoking sooo much.

Enjoy.

Just one thought though... Smoking is a dying Art!

dharmabum said...

i think the non-smokers are behaving like puritans these days. they make it look like smoking is the most despicable thing. whats more - they even claim that its the most disastrous addiction, and one would invariably end up in rehabs before he/she quits. i know smokers by the dozen who have just quit. just like that - no pains absolutely. i think we smoke coz we enjoy it, and thats all there is to it.

post coital smoke eh? me hasn't 'hit gold' yet, so for now, my fav smoke remains my first smoke in the morning, in complete privacy, in the toilet ;o) i like that feeling - both the brain and bowels clearing up simultaneously :)

as always, a beautiful post bg!

alter ego said...

Warning bells...It's never wise to have more than one true love...In your case, one could end up killing the other.In the war involving cigarettes and sex, they can never be on the same side, simply because your smokes could make your love life go up in smoke.

janani sampath said...

That is again a gud one , but i guess you have offended a lot of people.

Sanjeev Ramachandran said...

Abstaining from smoking promises a healthy life only in the long run, but has anyone ever seen the future from the point called 'present'? Now isn't that a lovey thought? Some day would love to go back to that smokers paradise at Express Estates and share a Wills Navy Cut with you for having made that observation.

Deepthi said...

I smoke gold flake badawahla as we call it in my city...I almost am banished from my Tel Brahm Fam for this utterly,non-butterly ciggi.Love the blog and shall visit for more...

Ardra said...

I sincerely wish you'd quit...for health reasons- yours and others too...

Zeppelin said...

on a completely different but slightly relevant note, changing the size of a picture should not be a big thing to do.. mspaint can do it all..there is a "stretch/skew" option on the "image" menu.. :D

and about quitting smoking.. i have tried to tell a lot of my buddies to quit...never succeeded.. also never tried hard enough.. I, for one, dont like to blow on deaf ears... :)

Anonymous said...

on a different note, 'Excel'supplement has no stuff at all.
Despite interesting TNSE , all the other supplements have no juice.

iz said...

I wish they'd leave smokers alone. There are hungry people and a lack of good designer wear in India and they're worried about smoking! PUHLEEZ!

Lovely blog by the way.

Anuja Byotra said...

If you quit smoking your face will not age that drastically in the next 4 years. But then, if you quit smoking, the current pic will not be representative of you and you'll have to change the snap anyway.

Tough choice indeed!

Anonymous said...

At the cost of sounding cliched, hope you have heard this one: "Cig is slow poison. So who is in a hurry anyways?". Best!

Gaizabonts said...

either ways, at least folks are responding. ignoring such a post - would have been a disaster of sorts.

CuriousCat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CuriousCat said...

Kudos to you from the smokers of the world (me included)! Atleast one place I don't feel like the untouchables must have in the past! :)

The Mad Momma said...

I dont smoke but i grew up in a family of smokers. i saw nothing wrong with it. they all died of various other reasons! I recall telling my mum at 16 (she was trying to point me towards a more suitable boyfriend than my own) that I wasnt interested in a guy who doesnt smoke!! so i guess the macho image works. my husband doesnt smoke but we have a house full of ashtrays and no prob whatsoever with those who do. i'll go with Iz's comment!

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Udaya said...

Just an observation haha- (I realize that this post is atleast 5 years old, but couldn't resist :P)- I guess you're 42 now, right? and you mention in this blog that you would definitely change the pic before you turned 40. A bit ironic!

Anonymous said...

I was also a 'smoker' once. The story was also quite similar and I realised that many have the same :-D . Those days were great.

Do you have 'Wills Navy Cut' price history? ;-).
Just curious.