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!