It was a December evening. Was back from work early and had nothing much to do. Went back to my room, changed into my casual clothes and went down to the chai kadai on the street parallel to my lodge.
I’m a regular so I don’t have to place an order. I just need to be seen and automatically a strong tea and a Wills Navy cigarette end up in my hands. I lit my cigarette and was sipping my tea when I saw this guy who was about my age. He ordered tea and biscuits. He looked at me and smiled. We’d been noticing each other for some time. It was the first time he’d acknowledged me so I smiled back.
“Hi, my name is Sam”- he said introducing himself. “Ajai”- I replied.
“What do you do?”- he enquired.
“I’m a financial advisor. Work for an investment bank here in Panampily Nagar.”
“Thanks. What do you do?”
“I’m a pastor.”
“Oh wow! Little young to be pastor na?”
“Ha… I’ve heard that before. Well it’s never too young to be doing what you love doing.”
I liked that answer. I nodded in agreement.
“Where do you preach?”- I asked.
“Church nearby, near Padma.”
“Can I ask you a question?”- he enquired.
“Sure, go ahead!”
“Why do you smoke?”
I smiled and replied- “Because I enjoy it!”
He laughed and said- “That’s the most original answer I’ve heard.”
I smiled back.
“But, if you don’t mind, I’d like to prod. I don’t get why people smoke. Why people willingly consume that poison and drown themselves in it. It doesn’t make any sense.”
I’d just finished my cigarette. I stubbed it out. Ordered 4 more for the night, pocketed it and went back to my friend.
“Busy?”- I enquired.
“Want to go for a walk?”
We started walking down PT Usha road. I opened again.
“That’s a difficult one to answer. It’s a question I’ve asked myself. I guess it’s the kick!”
“What kick? I’ve heard many guys tell me about this ‘kick’. What are you actually talking about?”
“I guess you’ll have to experience it to know.”
“I’ve tried a cigarette once- a long time ago. I remember choking on the smoke. I remember telling myself this is ridiculous and there’s no way I can be doing this.”
“That’s usually how it is the first time.”
“So, what made you continue?”
“It was not my first experience. I didn’t cough when I first smoked. I don’t know why. Probably because my Dad smokes and I was around it so much.”
“Okay. But did you experience this kick the first time?”
“No. Actually the first time I did it I was like why the hell is nothing happening.”
“So you continued till you got the ‘kick’?”
“Hmmm… you ask good questions. Yes, that’s what I actually did. Before you ask me why I did that let me answer. I thought it was cool and rebellious.”
“That is absurd.”
“No it isn’t. Might not be very logical, but not absurd.”
“So you still do it to be cool and rebellious?”
I laughed and said- “No. Today I know I’m cool and I know I’m rebellious. I probably do it to tap in to that part of me.”
“But, what about the consequences?”
“About the diseases and cancer and stuff right?”
“Ya. That and everything else.”
“Well, all things have consequences. I guess it’s up to the individual.”
“How do you do it when the consequences are so clear to you?”
“Well, a soldier knows the consequences of his profession. But, he still takes it up.”
“It’s not a fair comparison.”
“Well not an exact one. But, it was meant to highlight that the consequences need not be a deterrent. Look I have a simple funda. All things in excess are bad. You eat too much food and that’s bad. You sleep too much and that’s bad. Similarly if you smoke too much or drink too much it’s bad. You should do everything in moderation. Too much or too little can be a problem.”
“So you are saying everyone should smoke?”
“No. It’s like saying everyone needs to eat non-veg, doesn’t have to be. You can eat non-veg. Too much might not be a very good thing.”
“But, eating non-veg is good. It gives strength and proteins to the body. What does a cigarette do?”
“Eating non is good for us, but not for the poor animal that got killed. And non-veg is not ‘necessary’. We eat non because we enjoy it. Yes it has positives for the body. But, too much non is not good.”
“Yes, but smoking is not good for the body.”
“Different people react to different stimuli in different ways. And it’s not always about the body. It’s more about the mind. I go out to watch a movie not because my body will benefit but because my mind will. A cigarette probably falls in to that category of stimulus.”
“I can’t believe you are actually defending smoking and doing it quite well.”
“Thank you”- I said smiling.
“But smoking is a bad thing right?”
“Health wise- yes. And if you look at it at a social level again you could say it is better done away with. But, it’s a natural product. People have been doing it for ages and will continue to do it whatever happens.”
“So you are saying we should let people smoke?”
“They will do it even if you try to ban it. That’s the truth. It’s what’s happened with alcohol & drugs. Those who want to will find a way. Cigarettes are in some way better in the sense that the person doesn’t lose all control when he smokes.”
“And see all these things are kind of outlets. It’s a way for a guy to lose himself, to forget himself. This can be good and bad. Look if I’ve had a tough week and on the weekend I go to party, have a couple of drinks and have a good time to recharge myself, I think that’s an okay thing. It’s an outlet to remove the stress of the week. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
“On the other hand if I’m depressed- my girl just walked out on me and married a chutiya and I drink myself to forget my pain like Devdas- that’s plain silly, doesn’t serve any purpose. Both cases it’s alcohol, but for 2 entirely different purposes.”
“I get that.”
“Good. So it’s up to the individual. Each person should have the maturity to understand what he is doing and why he is doing it. Sometimes, people take a long time to figure. Some people never figure. But, each person reacts differently. And it’s probably part of the person’s growth, it broadens your outlook and gives you perspective. A person has to have the freedom to find himself.”
“That’s a way to look at it.”
“Yes, in this process of finding himself, if he becomes a menace/nuisance to society, then he needs to be stopped. No questions about that. It’s not going to be possible to ask each guy who buys a smoke or a drink- why are you buying it? Is it for a good reason or bad? However, if he starts a problem in society by his actions then we need to intervene and stop this guy.”
“So why do you smoke?”
“I answered that already didn’t I?”
“No. You seem like an intelligent chap. You know that smoking is not healthy. You could do other things to stimulate yourself. Why smoke?”
“Ah. That’s a good one.”
“And I’m waiting for your answer.”
I took out a cigarette and lit it. He watched me as I inhaled and then exhumed a cloud of smoke.
“I started because I thought it was cool and rebellious. I guess I’m still trapped in that image. I’m an extremely obsessive guy. I have OCD. Cigarettes are my stimulus. It helps me think. Whenever I’m stuck I go out and have a smoke. I don’t get the answer immediately, I admit to that. But, in some ways it stimulates my brain cells- keeps me going. Lightens the load and I feel good again.”
“Ya, it’s also in some ways a statement I’m making. Fuck the world. Fuck all the gyan about it being unhealthy and expensive and all that shit. It’s my way of saying- ‘Fuck you’ to the world.”
“Why do you need to say that?”
“Part of my rebellious nature. Look, it’s subjective. You have to be me to understand it.”
“Right. Go on.”
“Having said that, I admit it has limitations. There have been occasions when I’ve been under severe stress and where I’ve smoked 40-50 in a day continuously for a period of time without going anywhere. Nothing happens. You are just stuck. Then the cigarette actually does the reverse- it increases your stress.”
“Glad you realize that.”
“Yes. I do. And that’s when I need to do something positive. When I need to go out and do ‘something different’, something that stimulates me in a different way to divert the mind so that I can come back to the problem later on with fresh energy and a better perspective. “
“It’s all about working your mind and stuff for you isn’t it?”
“Yes. Totally! I guess I continue to smoke because I still find it enjoyable. I don’t do it in excess. On normal days it still helps. When I’m drinking I smoke a lot. But, that’s probably the other end when I’m enjoying myself. I drink only when I want to have a good time and with good company.”
“Still not making sense.”
“No. It won’t. We are very different people. Look at the most basic level all I can say is that I smoke because I enjoy it. Is it good? Sometimes yes, it helps my mind. Sometimes no, it does the opposite. Health wise or money-wise I don’t have a defense. It’s stupid thing to do- no doubt about it. But we can’t and shouldn’t be objective about everything. Probably if I find something else to stimulate my mind, or if I get bored of it, I will move on. Might happen, might never happen.”
“What do you want to happen?”
“Ah! You ask such poking questions! Right now I’m comfortable smoking. I enjoy it. So that’s how it is going to be.”
“I hope you will change your mind.”
“I will remember you if I do. Night!”