(Published in Zeitgesit, The New Indian Express, dated 12th April 2008)
It was a near-panic situation in the newsroom, when a colleague who was working furiously with me on a breaking story said urgently, "okay, there's something I
have to do. Can you just handle this? I'll be right back." Looking at the contortions working their way through his face, I decided the poor man was in a hurry to get to the restroom, and assured him the story would be taken care of. About five minutes later, he came and sat down beside me again, with one difference - he smelt of tobacco.
"So the thing you had to do was smoke???"
He smiled sheepishly and then tried to look professional again, "so, has the story gone on air?"
My mind was filled with dramatic, slow-motion images of a radio show host I worked with wringing his hands and asking me if I could put an extra song in so he could go out for a smoke before he had to do the traffic update, a friend of mine begging me to walk a few steps ahead of her so she could smoke without worrying about my allergies, another friend of mine from Singapore who used to carry a carton with her so she could ask the shopkeeper to transfer the cigarettes into it and spare herself the sight of the devastating pictures of cancerous growths that decorated cigarette cases…
Smokers never want to smoke. They need to or have to. I mean, you'll go crazy if you don't go out for a smoke right now. And you know, you have to because your boss does, and since you're pathetic at office politics anyway, you can't afford not to smoke. You know of people who've been smoking fifty years and outlived other people who never so much as touched a cigarette. And, by the way, an internet article pasted on someone's blog said an American university was doing a bit of research into the benefits of cigarette smoking. Let's be practical, if a little bit of wine is good for health, a little bit of smoking has to be, right?
But of all smokers, the most interesting category comprises the ones who "are quitting". Come on, they're serious about it, their 7:00 p.m. cigarette is always their first of the day. What makes them so interesting, though, is the procedure they follow and the ramifications it has. First up, they stop buying cigarettes. This assures them, of course, that they are quitting. Then, they incur the wrath of all their smoker friends by "bumming" cigarettes of them. So, in the course of a few days, all these smoker friends are not feeling quite so generous anymore, but unwilling to antagonise a member of their cult, they don't refuse smokes; instead, they pretend they aren't carrying any.
"Sorry, dude, I'm completely out."
At which point, the in-the-process-of-quitting-er will turn to a third smoker and ask, "dude, you carrying any?"
One course of events is for an indefinite cycle of people being "out" and bumming cigarettes off their friends to be set off. It's a survival-of-the-fittest application.
Alternately, the in-the-process-of-quitting-er, who is usually the most determined to smoke that first-cigarette-of-the-day, will turn to one of the non-smokers and ask for money to buy cigarettes. (By the way, it's also quite interesting how everyone who's out of cigarettes is also usually broke.)
Yet another is for the dramatic confrontation to take place. One of the being-bummed-off smokers will yell, "dude, you're supposed to be quitting, and you bum fags off me all the time!" at which point the in-the-process-of-quitting-er will throw his or her hands up in the air and say, "dude, it's impossible! You can't quit this overnight. I'm not trying anymore."
And all is well with the world again.
So far, though, my most memorable encounter with a smoker has been:
"Nandini, got a light?"
"No, I don't smoke."
"Nothing, yaar, I thought you were normal."