By Protiti Maji

“’Smoking Kills’ is a cautionary tale against the practice of tobacco intake. The story however is written in a not so serious vein, with scopes of jest. Influenced by my surroundings, I wrote this story for whenever outdoors, I happened to chance upon someone savouring a smoke”, writes Protiti.

“I quit smoking from now on, right from this moment”, swears Kanu, rapping the already wasted quarter-inch, willowy wrapper of tobacco upon the desk, sprinkling ashes of grey cumulus into the shadows of the room. Gently, he bangs his skinny knuckles on the wood. Comes up with an “Ah !” bitterly, hurting his tender flesh. He waits no more. He goes on to confirm the life of his former statement.

History indeed repeated itself.

Seventeen years back, the scenario was no different. It was exactly on this day in 1980, that Kanu pledged his allegiance to his father to give up smoking. This date observed itself nearly seven times in a row, and recurrent fake promises became the order of his days. 

Looking back, Kanu was the rightful juvenile delinquent of his times. Flaunting his tumultuous o-shaped belly – the size of the bright, sunset-golden pumpkins sold in Binoy Mukherjee’s store at Jonaki Street at considerably low costs – he made a freakish stride on his way back from the village high school, bouncing rapturously like a Koi maach on the shadowy meadows of Nischindipur.

At eleven, besieged by a couple of highly influential and worthless morons, Kanu was first introduced to the tiny blonde stick of tobacco stuffing, labelled in brown, called cigarettes, emitting the powerful stench of rusted life. Though it jarred on in the first go, Kanu could never let go of its subtle, dry, intoxication without stimulating his olfactory nerves by an addictive whirr of breath.

On the frosty December night, in his final school year, Kanu was confronted off guard behind a food corner, exhaling ash puffs in the stillness of the night. This daring feat was the start. In fact, his resolve of smoking inspired years to come.

Of course, after the glorious revelation of that carnival night, one can hardly expect him to duly carry on inhaling tobacco ceaselessly – especially after his father sketched rivulets and distributaries in schizophrenic blue and scarlet on his back and the whole length of spine with his grandfather’s quaint, black-brown leather belt.

The tiny, tawny cigarettes found their way back to his khaki pockets, when he moved to Bangalore, where the amber twilight and the sooty whirls from engines running in the distance, matched his many-shaped wheezes.

Thereon, he smoked, and smoked and smoked all the more.

With job securities, there was no harm to fall in love. Kanu, who was all grown up; having lost his watermelon belly, where now was his flat skinny stomach; who had jet black grains of hair on his lower jaw; who had experienced hands, one of which held the burnt cigar on the ashtray, fell for the girl with wavy strands of ochre .

From “as beautiful as the universe” to, ” the queen of my verse”, Kanu would rhyme for her, when enmeshed in blankets of cigar grills along the banks of the clear blue lake, her thoughts rippling in his mind.

The day she drew her gaze back from him under the starry night of a silver moon, her dreamy brown eyes were enveloped by the cover of her eyelids, when her lips extended into a warm smile, and the fragrance of a bouquet tickled his runny nose, he knew she was in love.

He realized later on, that she had grinned not in coyness but at his naivete to woo her with a runny nose.

In a fit of chivalric romance, when he proposed marriage,  with a cigarette (and not a diamond ring; tobaccos topped his priorities), the girl slammed her fury on him, mumbling “Rascal!”.

The contagion of love is disastrous and he felt it at that time too. Her rage was formidable, deciding upon which made it clear to him that she must have been envious of the cigar, he indefinitely treasured. 

“How keen is my intellect!” – he exclaimed, in delight. No sooner was he obsessed with the idea to quit smoking than he went off to bring it to fruition. The girl with wavy strands beamed on his second proposal (this time, he bore a dazzling diamond ring and did not have a runny nose). When he promised he would abandon smoking forever, she kissed him full and wet on his velvety lips – it was on the eve of their wedding.

Not before long, Kanu was spotted on the veranda steps on a mid-March afternoon, weeping silent streams of nostalgia, while white clouds darted into the grey sky. He was devoid of the spring life; in his nightmares there were cigars all around and before he lowered himself to grab one, a tremendous windmill drove him afar, for eternity into an existential black hole. Discrete from the rest, was the delirium of a sniffing demon that tossed his lungs juggling them with tobaccos like a colourful clown of the country circus. 

Oh, how he longed to smoke!

He did smoke one morning, weaving hushed puffs in the backyard of the house. The maid who saw, felt that it was essentially her responsibility to report to the mistress (about the affairs of the house and its residents) she served. Kanu’s plight was just a sight to behold. 

One thousandth, nine hundred, fifty fourth swearing of “I would never again smoke” finally restored equanimity at home following a tempest. She was rash with him and insinuated bodily harm: “Besides my culinary skills, you ought to savour the taste of my excellent boxing expertise, that I have learnt from my father over the years, if you dare go back on your words.” No doubt, Kanu found her both antisocial and antagonistic, certainly more appalling than the juggler demon of his dream.

By heaven’s grace, in less than a week, an advertising pamphlet inscribed in red  capitals flew into the study room along with the west wind ,  landing on Kanu’s desk. It bore an invitation to join a secret society of “VULNERABLE SMOKERS”. He recruited himself instantaneously and attended its meetings on the latest weekend.

The club comprised of a force of seven (Kanu being the eighth) impotent smokers who sought refuge in nothing but smoking. Together, the smokers took pride in spurting splashes of red, blue, purple, yellow and green in posters and pamphlets. They  marched in a band through the children’s park holding forth colourful banners that proclaimed – “SMOKING SHOULD BE PROHIBITED. IT IS HIGHLY INJURIOUS TO HEALTH AND CAUSES CANCER.” – as if  warning the little kids at play and their mothers against the severities of smoking ! 

Whether the abstinence from smoking or a perverse pretense, whatever it may be, Kanu was evermore resolute.

On the night of the new moon, when the sky shimmered with bright candle lights, Kanu was late from work, wrought with fatigue and exhaustion. Mounting on the flights with a heavy tramp, when he led himself to the front door and pressed the bell with his remnant vigour (having lost all his vitality in forfeiting cigarettes), an unwonted whiff roused him, he turned on his back to find a stranger flinging the still half-burnt tobacco to the ground. 

Right on cue, the door opened at Kanu, lolling on the silvery-dust clad earth, whirring asymmetrical symmetries from the snatched little stick of blonde cigar!

Author Bio:

Hello ! I am Protiti from Kolkata. At seventeen, my time fleets with classics, modals and limericks. Harmonium serves as my companion by the noon, while I tinkle my anklets wearied of Taal in sweet monsoon. I look to Van Gogh and Picasso for impressions and portraits, my scrapbooks imprint the pleasure of shading resonances. I take to writing to keep fingers nimble lest they should crumble in want of wriggle. I like to talk indeed a lot and that’s me in short.

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