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The smoker

My love affair with smoking began, and has taken a course, as most love affairs do—it started as curiosity, then uncertainty and finally addiction

The other day I read an article about smoking, written by probably the greatest purveyor of the habit, Christopher Hitchens. The article was titled Booze and Fags, and towards the end of this enjoyable piece, Hitchens, in his usual triumphant voice, declares: “…only a fool expects smoking and drinking to bring happiness, just as only a dolt expects money to do so. Like money, booze and fags are happiness…” I have been benefitted from that ‘happiness’ for the past three years.

To put it straight, I love smoking, if love be the right word. I love smoking in general, but I especially enjoy that first cigarette in the morning and the one right after dinner. I can say for certain that I find pleasure in smoking, a kind of ‘happiness’, as Hitchens puts it. But what kind of pleasure is this that smoking bestows? It’s a pleasure just 15 rupees and a click of the lighter away, but as inscrutable as destiny.

My love affair with smoking began, and has taken a course, as most love affairs do—it started as curiosity, then uncertainty and finally addiction.

I was in the eighth grade when I smoked the first cigarette of my life.

I vividly remember the place and the atmosphere. It was in the middle of a jungle, tucked away from the residential area, quiet and safe. We were three of us, village brothers and buddies.

We had procured the cigarette from S’s father’s pocket. S’s father was a short, agile man in his 30s, and a heavy smoker. He almost always wore a waistcoat, in the pocket of which he kept his cigarette pack—Khukuri, if you care about the brand. One fine afternoon, S’s father was away from home and thus, was not wearing his signature waistcoat. Perhaps it was worn-out or needed washing, but that was obviously not any of S’s concern, as he simply picked one out of the pack and our plan was set.

Once we got to the forest, we wondered, who is going to take the first drag? We were all impressionable and completely new to this vice. We knew we were in for a mystery—it was bound to be special, nothing short of an adventure. When my turn came, I was afraid at first and didn’t take a full drag. I just tasted it, hesitant to give in completely. So my first drag cannot properly be called a drag, it was a semi-drag, a half-drag. So I choked when I took the first proper drag, the one that followed the first half-hearted one.

It was bitter and the taste lingered for hours afterwards. I did not like smoking, I clearly hated it. It was a personal failure, an inability to discern the mystery, and the pleasure, of smoking.

So what was the charm? Why was it that uncles and grandpas were suckling at this bitter cylinder day in and day out? Maybe I had done it wrong?

I didn’t set out to seek an answer until two years afterwards, as a tenth grader. I was away from home then, since the SLC was approaching and I was free. It was then that I learned to smoke properly and discovered its real pleasure, so to speak. But I didn’t smoke for two years afterwards, except for some occasional tokes with friends, which was once in a month or so.

I only began to smoke seriously after I completed my Plus Twos. I was now living alone and was free to do whatever I liked. One stick a day turned into two, two became four and the number only grew.

These days, I smoke about seven to ten cigarettes a day. But I do not lament them or my habit. Smoking is fun, especially, like I said, the first in the morning and the one right after dinner. But what about those seven or eight cigarettes in between? They may be less enjoyable but there is a certain pleasure to be had in every cigarette, every puff of smoke that goes into the lungs tinged with red-blue flame and comes out in a cloud, grey and ashy.

Mathematically, seven cigarettes a day for about 720 days equals 5,040 cigarettes that I have smoked in my life. If one cigarette costs Rs 15, since I smoke Suryas, I have spent around Rs 50,400 in my smoking life.

It is not that I have not thought about giving up smoking, but I don’t see the need to give it up just yet.

Why give up something that you continue to love and enjoy? Once a friend almost persuaded me to give up smoking: “You’ll reach the age of 50 or 60, and you’ll be on your deathbed, lamenting, ‘what if I had given up when I was just 22?’”

I thought about that. But, excuse me, what guarantee is there that I will live to the age of 60 anyway? 


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