Tuesday, 19 May, 2009

Interesting read....

Sajni Kripalani Mukherji

The author teaches English at Jadavpur University, Calcutta

I can remember the first semi-adult location in the early Sixties where one smoked when we were students at Presidency College. It was almost unthinkable that girls could smoke where a professor might see them. Nor did we: we were a little goody-goody then. We did, however, frequent the Coffee House across the road and even without smoking, came home with the smell of Charminar in our hair and on our clothes. Those were more relaxed times and an adda was unthinkable without our male friends, and very rarely an intrepid female one smoking Charminar, while we solemnly discussed politics, poetry and philosophy. That aura became the sine qua non of the adda for a long time afterwards. In Oxford, I would sometimes nostalgically light an unfiltered Gauloise or Gitanes in my room like some kind of offering to a deity of ambience, much to the amusement of my Indian and non-Indian friends. I didn’t start smoking myself until a while later. It was a gesture of defiance, a symbol of independence, a moment of doing something with the belief that I could take the consequences. It was also infinitely relaxing. On the frantic pre-tutorial nights, I would allow myself a coffee-and-cigarette break each time I completed a part of the tutorial essay. But the smoky addas continued unabated. I can remember the startled or amused expression on the faces of the Italians in Florence, of the French in Paris, and most of all, the simple villagers in Austria (where I hitch-hiked) at the sight of a demure sari-clad woman wearing sneakers, a hat and a knapsack, striding along, cigarette in hand.

Back in Calcutta in the late Sixties, of course one had to contest the image of ‘good girls’ not smoking. I have to say, in most situations, eventually the consensus was, “Okay, she smokes, but she doesn’t bite or do anything else that’s nasty.” So I got away with it for some more time. Even senior in-laws by-and-large allowed it, away from their sight. My own parents were quite upset, initially, but later my mother would sometimes pinch a cigarette or two from my father’s pocket for me. At an undergraduate government college, my first teaching post, I smoked only very occasionally in the staff common room. I smoked when I was most relaxed, and I couldn’t really relax in that particular ambience. JNU in Delhi was definitely better. There we smoked happily in the tea jhuggis around the campus, in meetings and, of course, in the Calcutta-style addas, of which there were many. And Jadavpur was much like that — always at Milan’s, Mani Babu’s, in my own room, sometimes elsewhere on the campus, in interminably long meetings.

The odd note of disapproval began to creep in when the dangers of smoking became more and more advertised and visible. But the adda was still incomplete without it, the subtle way of detecting who were liberal enough to accept you as you were. A smoking woman-friend and I went to Santiniketan some years ago and were sitting comfortably on the grass in the khowai, smoking cigarettes and bonding, as we do well. A while later, a bunch of young boys cycled past. They couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven years old. Suddenly one of them shouted in a totally friendly way: “Oh Thakuma! Cigarette kheyo na. Cigarette khaowa khub bipajjanak.”

I have to say the real objection has come from the next generation. My own daughter, who grew up passively inhaling nicotine fumes, is now a conscientious objector, as are several nieces and nephews, and some students too. I am deeply sensitive to their wish for my continuing health as well as for a purer environment. Occasionally, a conscientious objector raises objections in a meeting and I have to check myself from reaching for the comfort of a cigarette throughout. That affects me: it makes me sleepy, no matter how much coffee is served. I do believe, though, that a total ban would make us all give up or only secretly indulge this ‘disgusting’ habit. I am all for it, but I must say, I sometimes long for all those early innocent days, when smoking was something more than just a nasty addiction.

1 comment:

  1. Nice to read that objections are coming from the Gen-X but i don't think it is the complete reality. in my case i tried to quit smoking but it was continual unless i came to know that it is "haram" in Islamic terms and even though not being very religious, it worked and i am happy in not being dependent on Smoking when tensed!!!but at the end one can admit that Gen-X is more aware bout its consequences.


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