Sunday, 30 May 2010

Who Says-Smoking

Pop culture has elevated smoking to a status of romance. A cigarette holder placed between slender fingers, while the woman’s rouged mouth is blowing out smoke rings, shrouds her in smoke and mystery. Photographs that show Churchill heavily puffing on a cigar, coupled with his deep set scowl, lend him a power and a damn-care attitude that lets us know that while smoking may kill him, he certainly will die on his own terms. Guevara has been similarly photographed, smoking a cigar from home, while lost in deep thought. Why, even Cruella DeVille was dressed with a cigarette and did it not add to the terror in her character?

However moral codes, health diktats and just plain culture, have rubbished the activity as a hazard and a premise for unproductivity.

So what does it take to be a rebel? How is a rebel any different from a freedom fighter, a social worker or a terrorist? Don’t they all want change, and to do things differently. It is unfortunate that the connotation associated with the term rebel has come to be negative, and a ‘deviant’ is not viewed as individualistic or creative but as an anti-social nuisance.

There is a nation wide smoking ban in India, which was put in place in October 2008. There is also a ban on smoking being portrayed in movies and photographs, unless they were from a period before the ban was introduced. But tobacco is still grown in India, and more frequent than the much needed dustbins in this country, are little tin shops that sell cigarettes, Pan Parag and tea, to the 250 million tobacco users in the country. India is the third largest market for cigarettes in the world, and whether the ban is directed towards people already addicted to smoking cigarettes, or to protect second hand smokers, is anybody’s guess.

Of all the addictions that are considered devilish, I’m taking tobacco smoking on today, and debating it for myself, irrespective of the fact that I’ve already made up my mind about it.

I’m a non smoker but I have several smoker friends. Heck, nearly everybody I know smokes. I never lend them money to buy smokes but I do accompany them sometimes, on their sutta-breaks. This has allowed me to closely observe the social implications of smoking.

From my inferences, smoking gives smokers a social advantage. “Want a smoke?,” “What’s your brand?” and “Have you tried this brand?” are often used conversation starters.

I know students who smoke with their professors outside college and have seen teenagers smoking with adults in the balcony at parties. I once even asked a smoker friend to oblige a beggar, who wanted some of his cigarettes in Delhi (I’ll explain this in another post, another time).

Thus, the old and young, wise and foolish are suddenly equal when it comes to them being smokers. Their life’s Venn diagrams overlap, with no one side judging the others’ values and choices. “How long have you been smoking?,” “How many do you smoke in a day?,” “Have you tried quitting?” and “How come you didn’t succeed?” means that they have all had some common trials, successes and failures and a considerable amount of experience and insight to share, irrespective of their age and maturity. In the sense, this immediately inducts every smoker into a fraternity, and everybody wants to belong.

Contrary to a non-smokers usual dismissal of a smoker as someone who is weak willed, I contest that on the grounds of the active and conscious nature of the addiction. Unlike an alcoholic or a druggie, a smoker hasn’t given himself over to smoking. Smokers smoke on the go, and capably manage their lives with one hand working while the other wields a cigarette. It means that a smoker doesn’t languish in a dark bar, neither does he shack in abandoned houses injecting things into his blood. One wouldn’t see a smoker lying face down on the road, passed out under influence.

Instead every smoke and smoke break is planned for. Several of my smoker friends ration out their money carefully and budget for cigarettes. Thus a smoker doesn’t sit rooted and smoke all day, all at once, but does so at intervals. This gives credence to their self will, because a smoker always carries a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and can feel it every time he reaches for his keys or wallet, but doesn’t always give in.

And thus, a smoker does in fact have cravings and suffers withdrawals if he isn’t able to smoke but this ensures that he is always aware of his addiction. This in turn means that he controls his own addiction to a large extent.

Life is slightly slower for a smoker. Or at least it is well interspersed with pauses and breathing time- something all our lives could use- even if it means they breathe their own toxic exhalations. Sutta breaks give smokers time to reflect on their ongoing day, calm down, and re-strategize for the rest of it. The demand of their addiction, ensures their sanity and subsequent clarity, simply because they took a time out.

And as long as this remains uncontested, who says?

Who Says

Who says you can’t wear short skirts, can’t pierce the same side of your nose twice, can’t be a nine to fiver and be a loud mouthed biker at night at the same time. Who says you can’t go to church and sport a personal tattoo way down under. Who says you got to finish two degrees and then work. WHO SAYS THESE THINGS. And why not me?

The multiplicity of angles, and the multitude of options- whether it is at your neighbourhood restaurant that serves tandoor, Chinese and Udupi, or this drama of a life- has resulted in the lack of reason for us to take any particular side. This leaves things vacant and cluttered.

But only one thing is right and can be. Though there may be degrees of rightness, the one standing will have to be the one farthest away from the wrong, or even the center. Every other option is a compromise.

Every other option has to be debated out, because we can’t afford to make mistakes anymore. And even though some things are universally accepted to be right or wrong, for the benefit of those who err in their ways and seek to justify it, those who know the right should be able to hold up their end.

I plan on featuring posts titled ‘Who Says’ in which I may argue situations, even if I believe much the contrary of what I write. It will be done purely as an exercise, to annoy myself.