'But a good cigar is a smoke!'

(Smoking may be injurious to health — but not reading about it!)

Among things available for producing smoke from tobacco, the beedi will be in the bottom rung. Wrapped in a humble, unpretentious leaf, the short, hand-rolled beedi would light up a person, when he lights up one.  Low-priced and available in singles or bundles, the hope of completion of a monumental construction in time would have gone up in smoke if beedis (and of course the garam chai) were not available for the men who put it together.

Not that beedis were fancied only by the working class. A few  men who have money to burn are known to have the pluck to smoke beedis in public. Reverse snobbery? But the cigarette, wrapped cylindrically in white paper and packed in a small box with silver foil is the rich cousin of beedi, denoting class. The snooty among them used to come packed in a tin, arranged in a circular mode. A device when pulled, would pop up the fag from the cluster. A smoker who is enjoying an after dinner gasper, releasing clouds of rich, aromatic, tobacco smoke, especially during a wintry night, would deem a non-smoker, who would not touch it with a barge pole, a filtered muff. That the smoke he inhales will not fumigate his lungs but will darken it like the gas passing through a factory chimney may not register in his mind, he would be coughing up good money for a nightly performance of unabated coughing in varying beats.

The craze for a smoke is so marked that if one is not allowed buy-now-and-pay later facility due poor credit rating, some among them would hang their heads, but not in shame, but to look for butts on the road, thrown away without enjoying to the last puff. Such castaway bits would serve the needy even at the fag end of their lives, even after the lights from their lives have been trampled and extinguished.

Cigars, the fat cousins of cigarettes are torpedo-shaped, darkish brown in colour. They may be waved to interpret an emotion, akin to a doctor removing his bifocals theatrically, declaring he could commit about a prognosis  only after 24 hours. A cigar toting crusty tycoon  would lovingly  select a Havana from its box, run it horizontally under his nostrils and inhale the smell, like a connoisseur would do raising a balloon glass of cognac to his nose. After more such ‘petting’, he would light it, after carefully snipping the business end with a knife. Puffs of rich tobacco smoke would engulf. Whenever his ever-pregnant wife delivered a baby, he would in celebration pass around cigars to intimate  friends. Why cigars? May be he wanted to side with Rudyard Kipling, who felt, ‘A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.’

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