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The woes of a smoker

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K S S Pillai
Though the history of smoking dates back to 5000 BC, it is being condemned all around today. When compared to alcohol drinkers, smokers are at a disadvantage. It is well-known that excessive consumption of alcohol is harmful to a person’s health and will hasten his journey to the other world.
People will simply say, “It’s his funeral,” and leave him alone. Smokers are less fortunate. Ever since a connection was established between cancer and smoking, they are looked upon as anti-social elements causing damage to not only their own health but also to that of several bystanders called passive smokers. They are not allowed to have their puffs in public places and, like untouchables, are forced to smoke inside ‘smoking rooms’.
Called ‘sin goods’, tobacco products are taxed left and right by all governments. In the past, cigarettes would go off the counters of shops a couple of days before the presentation of the budget. Old-timers would buy extra stock well in time, but it was only temporary relief. When they sought a lighter from a fellow smoker, it was the etiquette to offer the packet to him. All that has become a thing of the past. Now they would wait for another smoker with a lighted cigarette and borrow it to light theirs.
Cigarette manufacturers are not allowed to advertise their products. They have to state prominently on their packs that smoking is injurious to health. Film directors also try to avoid smoking scenes in their films as it is mandatory for them to display in bold letters that smoking is detrimental to health.
There used to be a time when smokers were looked upon in awe. Collecting cigarette packets of different brands was a hobby of many people. While in school, I had a classmate who used to collect cigarette butts thrown away by others. Away from the eyes of teachers, he would have a puff behind the bushes in the school compound. He was a hero to us. We would gawk in wonder how he exhaled smoke through his nose. He used to boast that he could emit smoke through his eyes and ears, too. He had mastered the art of sending out smoke rings from his mouth to the amazement of onlookers.
In the black-and-white movies, cigarettes were an integral part of heroes. In some films, even women belonging to high society would indulge in smoking and drinking alcohol. Many a time it was the hero’s macho way of smoking that attracted damsels. A disenchanted lover would go on smoking cigarette after cigarette, scattering butts all around him.
One south Indian actor could attract an audience just to observe how he tossed a cigarette into the sky and got it land exactly in his mouth. He could light a match-stick by rubbing it on the bald head of the villain. He could move a cigarette rapidly from one corner of his mouth to the other while flooring the vast number of his opponents with well-aimed smashes. His fans must have heaved a sigh of relief when he abandoned the idea of leaving the tinsel world to launch a political party.
During my childhood, beedies were more popular, leaving cigarettes to the elite. Every pan shop used to have a beedi maker in a corner of his shop. He would have a winnowing sieve made of bamboo on his lap with all ingredients for making beedies. He would deftly roll and fill the cut tendu leaves with tobacco dust, and secure them with a cotton thread. There would be a lighted kerosene lamp near the counter for lighting beedies or cigarettes.
I wish the anti-smoking lobby would, like certain Native American tribes, smoke a peace pipe with the smokers, and allow them reasonable freedom to have their puffs.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to The Kashmir Vision, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)

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