(He hated smoke. It made him cough. It made him feel allergic. It made him feel imperfect . But it also made him feel different, a fact which he loved. Even as a kid , this confusion did nothing to mitigate this unambiguous hatred towards smoke. His worst nightmare was to be made to sit through a havan in his house. A nightmare,which often came true in his religious household.
But cigarettes. Ooh, they were a different matter. They were always fascinating. As a kid, he always loved how in Hindi movies smoking was used to create hierarchy in villain’s world. The top villain used to smoke pipes or cigars. His henchmen had cigarettes and the guys from the lower rung who did all the dirty work managed with the beedis. You could gauge the growth of a bad person by the change in his smoking habits. The way cigarettes were used to portray characters felt cool to him. Of course he never smoked. He was too young to do that. But once he rolled up a paper , put an end on fire and tried to inhale some smoke from the other end. He didn't remember if he managed any smoke but the soot and ash which settled in his throat left him coughing for hours. Maybe, days. He couldn't remember well at the moment.
Then he got into college where many of his friends smoked. He though didn't allow any of them to smoke in his room. He felt asphyxiated due to smoke if anyone did so. And apart from that he was also afraid that living in a room full of smoke will make him grow allergic to the allergy of smoke robbing him of the trait of being different from his mates because he didn't like smoke. But still cigarette was sacrosanct in his fascination. That cigarette came with smoke was its only drawback.
It was dark, the room. But his eyes were lightening. So was the matchstick in his hand. Within moments, the cigarette he had smuggled in this dingy, secluded store room of Mechanics Laboratory of college was also lit. He lifted the cigarette up to his lips. Hands trembling, he dropped it soon enough without any action. He hurriedly took his mobile out, turning on its flashlight. He was almost afraid if anybody around had heard the sound of the cigarette falling. This time he was more determined, so steadier. He pursed the cigarette between his lips to avoid it falling again and lit it. He didn't want to be termed a mouth-fagger by his friends. A term for those who didn't take the smoke in. Those who didn't burn their lungs. Jo bas munh kadwa karte thay. So the cigarette lit, he took a deep drag inside. And, he choked out.)
After a night of hash-session ,this was all he remembered in his trance. Remembering even this much was a chore while being what one calls “being high”. Even the Pink Floyd sounded slower to him, if it was humanly possible that is. But he wanted to think and try to remember. It sounded like a good story to him. And he hoped that thinking will help him to fall asleep.
When did it all start then? It must have been when that bitch broke his heart when he had his full cigarette. He didn’t want to think of her as a bitch. After all, she helped him fulfill his lifelong ambition to smoke a full cigarette, albeit inadvertently. Besides she was his first love in life. She could never be a bitch. But some fucker with the music control had played “Good bye cruel world” and the bitch turned up. The pain might have made him forget that he had to choke over after every drag. And thus it started, or maybe not. The day on which he had his first full cigarette might have been a different day for all he remembered. But this heartbreak and the bitch made a good story and a comforting thought.
He understood the allure now. He once went to a high end working place in Delhi for a job interview. Coming from a small place, he was amused to see girls smoking openly with others. He searched on internet for the videos of girls smoking when he went home. Only then did he realize that what he thought as amusement was actually a form of sexual gratification. And only later during a post-coital smoke when he offered the cigarette to the girl and she refused did he realize that the gratification did not come from the girl, but from the cigarette she smoked. Since then he had only dated the girls who smoked as well. Did he date the girls or the cigarette, he couldn’t decide at the moment.
He started regular smoking by placing a table fan behind him while he smoked so that the smoke coming wouldn’t bother him. But as the frequency grew, it became cumbersome for him to get hold of a table fan whenever he had the urge. Soon, this pretence was also done away with. And from then, the present day was never far off. This smoke filled room was slowly disjointing him from the memories of the havan room full of smoke of childhood and of his first love who didn't smoke either. He was slipping into sleep. Somebody had changed the music to “Have a Cigar”.
He was lying in the bed of a hospital. All kinds of wires were attached to his old, wrinkled hands and was surrounded by numerous medical paraphernalia. He could see a man outside his room through the glass door on which ICU was printed in bold and in red. His blurry vision only afforded him a silhouette of the man. It slowly raised a cigarette to his lips and walked away leaving smoke rings behind him free to enter the old man’s ICU room. He struggled wildly to shoo away the smoke but he felt too weak for that. He hated the smoke. It made him cough. It made him feel imperfect. It made him feel dead.
He woke up with a start. It was morning already. He lit a cigarette and ambled towards the toilet. He still remembered the dream vividly. Was it divine signal? An omen from the Gods, maybe? He shrugged off the thought and took a deep drag inside. He wasn't high anymore.