Snuffed out by changing times

Snuffed out by changing times

Snuffing was never as harmful as smoking. It was believed that, “snuffers aren’t duffers like puffers."

Where's all the snuff gone!

Whatever’s happened to good old snuffing — that age-old addiction that saw our elders plug their nostrils with ‘gunpowder’ (as some jovially termed it) and then sneeze explosively?

In company, one of them would produce (with poorly concealed pride) a snazzy little snuff-box, tap it lightly with a forefinger to loosen the hardened stimulant and showily extract a generous pinch to prime his twitching nostrils with obvious relish, inhaling deeply. Often the snuff-box would be companionably passed around to friends in a gesture of comradeship, leaving them in a state of near euphoria after the ritualistic application — never mind if one or the other exploded into a spasm of uncontrolled sneezing, scaring the wits out of the uninitiated. It was all part of the pleasures of snuffing.

True, snuff-users were sometimes a trifle smelly and their breath wheezy. The pungent, often musty tang of processed tobacco hung around them and their nostrils were often rimmed with the brown-hued residue — a sort of trademark that testified they were snuff addicts. 

Like his fellow addicts, dad regarded snuffing as a purely pleasurable indulgence rather than a vice or addiction. He asserted that it helped keep his mind clear and colds at bay. 

Indeed, rarely did a cold ever trouble him. He also claimed, with justification, that snuffing was never as harmful as smoking, stoutly supporting this theory with a self-coined quip, “Snuffers aren’t duffers like puffers!”

Dad could skip a meal but never his periodic pinch of the perfumed and pulverised mooku podi as it’s known in Tamil. ‘NVS Pattinam Podi’ was the most popular snuff brand then — and his favourite. It came in small, handy tubular tins that, when empty, doubled as containers for our air-rifle pellets.

When dad’s supply of snuff ran out, we boys would be despatched pronto to the bazaar to buy a tin or two. On our way back we seldom could resist the temptation to prise open the cap and deeply sniff the contents. The result was that our return would be heralded, inevitably, by obstreperous bouts of sneezing audible well before we reached home. Fellow snuff-users who forgot to bring along their snuff-boxes could always depend on dad who never stirred out of the house without his safely tucked into the breast-pocket of his coat. It was an indispensable part of him.

Once when an unpopular cousin visited us during the summer holidays and overstayed his welcome, we boys were at a loss as to how to get rid of him. Then a sibling had a brainwave. As the snooty cousin napped one afternoon, he slyly slipped an overdose of snuff into his nostrils. The guy promptly erupted into a spasm of unrestrained sneezing or rather bellowing that echoed through the house. The practical joke worked — the next day he left bag and baggage!

Today, snuffing is no longer popular or fashionable except in certain rural pockets of the country. Yet, for me, it has an old-world charm about it that’s hard to forget. The memory of dad and his pals tightly tamping their nostrils with obvious relish (as if they were priming a double-barrelled muzzle-loader) remains vivid in my mind.


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