It is all peer pressure, she said dismissively, with all the happy confidence of one who has had her opinions gifted to her shrinkwrapped, for easy consumption / long shelflife.
She said, Cigarettes are Dangerous and Smelly and Dirty, how could they possibly be sexy.
I don't really know if I like the smell of cigarette smoke.. I've never had the luxury of choice, my sinuses have been making their opinion obvious for as long back as I can remember. I cough and I sneeze, repeatedly and embarassingly, around anyone who chooses to light up anywhere close to me. For every five minutes that I spend in an elevator with a smoker, I sneeze four days. Quite understandably, I try not to linger.
But I look at smokers, that doesn't hurt. I watch them gather in straggling groups around paan shops and outside the highway dhabas, and walking along the railway tracks, and sneaking behind the city hotels, and very rarely, braving the danger of their hostel balconies, standing facelessly in the scary opaque blackness of winter nights, the tips of their fingers lit up faintly by the smouldering ends of their fags. I look at them and for every ten fumbling idiots puffing away at their stubs, there's definitely one sexy smoker.
There are those smokers who clutch their cigarettes gracelessly with three stubby fingers, puffing on them jerkily with a sort of sullen singlemindedness. They smoke furiously, right till the filter, with the urgency of asthmatics with inhalers. Sometimes they pound their fags into their little plastic dip-tea cups, stubbing them out until there's a papery, grey-brown sludge at the bottom of the glass. Sometimes they belabour themselves into doing party tricks and force out a marching parade of stiff, unhappy looking white rings, looking pleased with themselves. These smokers and their silly, pouty, ring-producing mouths are a pain to watch. I don't like these smokers.
I like the other ones.
The ones that inhale slowly, absentmindedly, with their elbows up on the table and their fingers completely relaxed, the cigarette between them barely an afterthought. They inhale, and you see nothing for two seconds, and then they breathe out gently, in faint white tendrils. Their lips barely move as they smoke, the act of smoking itself just an accessory to the whole thinking, talking, laughing performance.
The ones in whose long, tapering fingers the cigarette stays suspended almost miraculously, as they move their hands around while talking. The thing dangles carelessly between middle and ring finger, and they flick the ash away from them in that pretty wrist-flick that they don't even notice they do. It dances dangerously, threatening to fly from between their fingers when they start waving their hands around as they talk excitedly, and pushing their hair away from their faces. They never notice. It never falls.
Then the smouldering tip begins to fade, and they stub it out halfheartedly in their cups, and they leave.
I walked into a dhaba once, on the Madras-Pondicherry highway, to buy chocolate. I saw a girl with long, shiny, messy hair, mile-long fingers and a beautiful mouth smoke a Djarum Black while talking angrily into her phone. To this day I am not sure whether I bought a Dairy Milk or a Gems, but the tableau of that girl and the beautiful long black cigarette dancing angrily at the end of her beautiful, skinny fingers is burned into my mind, like one of those pretentious black-and-white photographs they call 'high art' these days. But this picture is not black and white, of course. Dark brown gold hair, freckled brown fingers, black cigarette, pale gold band. The colour is only too alive.
Smokers should quit. If they can't, they should learn to be sexy smokers.
I mean, if you're doing something that is going to stain your skin, kill your breath, block your blood vessels, collapse your lungs and stop your heart, the least you can do for yourself is look hot while doing it.