31 July, 2021

Tap The Ash Here

Can people look at smoking with a scientific temper?

Illustration by Saahil
Tap The Ash Here

A long time ago, my middle-class father decided that my only passport to a better life was to get into an elite engineering college. So I made a promise to myself: I would try, and if I were successful, I would smoke. On a sultry June morning, 36 years ago, when I checked the results of the entrance test, and found that I had got through, I bought and lit my first cigarette. (Before we go on, let me say this: What you are reading is fundamentally about scientific temper. The tobacco issue is only a trigger.)

Smoking was very common then. In fact, it was stylish. People even smoked non-filtered cigarettes, and the harsher the drag you took, the more macho you thought you were—an idea driven home by the ads of that king tough-smoke brand, Charminar, made iconic among Bengalis in the 1970s by Satyajit Ray; his detective Feluda chain-smoked it. And all those novels were written for young teens!  Of course, Ray turned virulently ­anti-smoking after his heart attack in the early 1980s. Pre-heart ­attack, all the men in his films smoked at an alarming rate....

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