Sunday Schmooze // No toots over hanging the smoke upSun 22 Nov 2020
Exactly a week ago, for no particular reason and under no particular duress, I quit smoking. On a whim, I decided I won’t get any more cigarette packets, and when the current one ran out of sticks, well, that would be that.
The cessation has been remarkably easy, considering that I’ve smoked 7 to 8 cigarettes daily for more than a couple of decades. My smoky affair started as a dare, and soon evolved to “having something to do” whenever I was bored.
I’d always maintained smoking, for me, was motional, a procedure that allowed me to collect my thoughts. And I’ve never had cravings for a tobacco kick because I never managed to inhale properly in any case.
Everyone would scoff at my delusions. But I held on to my belief system. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get withdrawal symptoms.
I cut cigarettes a lot of slack. For instance, I cringe a little when I see “statutory warnings” in Indian cinema: some ghastly, Ramsay Brothers-type visual, accompanied by an absolutist line — “smoking causes cancer”.
No, smoking doesn’t “cause” cancer because if “not smoking” was an antidote, the world may have been cancer-free. Yes, smoking may make you more vulnerable to cancer — but so does breathing, especially if you live in Indian cities.
Smoking showcased my personal financial history. The brand of cigarettes I smoked have changed over the years — a roadmap of my fluctuating fortunes.
When I lived in Dubai, I smoked, what many called, a “posh” Middle East-specific sub-brand of a global brand. “What will you do once you move back to India?” I was asked, and I’d say, “Maybe I’ll quit.”
As it turned out, the same brand is available everywhere in Delhi, you only need to have the right contacts, and it’s cheaper than most desi packs.
When I started smoking, sometime in the late 1990s, most women I knew in the fairly conservative city of Calcutta were closet smokers — or, at best, smoked in the select company of “broad-minded” people.
It wasn’t much of a health issue then (most men smoked at all times) as it was a stigmatising one for women: it was unthinkable to smoke in “public” unless you were very, very wanton. A “loose character”.
My workplace had taken a drive to non-smoking so every time I smoked, I’d have to come down, with a handful of other “forward” ladies to the parking lot where we made a spectacle of ourselves.
Little huddles would form – “staring committees” we’d call them – and often pedestrians would retract steps just to watch us go up in smoke.
Also recall a female friend and I once smoking in a park where there was a lot of (very explicit) public display of affection put on by a couple. Nobody paid them two hoots of attention because they were so busy gawking at us.
Later, the couple walked up to us and said “Thanks for stealing our thunder totally — we really needed that privacy”, and then all of us burst out laughing.
Too many fond memories, so I don’t think I’ll be a non-smoking Nazi, sputtering in rage each time someone lights up or offers unsolicited advice on how to stub it out. I may even have a drag once in a while.
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