It was for a school play, I think Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version. I was playing Millie, the near-neurotic wife of a professor who is having an affair with another, younger master in a public school. How Raja (our English teacher, athletics coach, Drama teacher, mentor and general purpose crush object for hormonal 15-year-olds) persuaded the formidable headmistress to allow us to smoke on stage for the higher cause of theatre is not clear; we just put it down to his charm.
But I had to smoke and I didn't know how. Raja lit one cigarette from his precious stock (I never realised what a sacrifice it must have been for him to be so prodigal; the next few packs would come only on the next dental trip out to Bangalore) and handed it to me. I took it gingerly, afraid it would explode in my face; I'm nearly certain I made the filter soggy; and I took half a drag and collapsed in a fit of coughing. Other older students who were not acting hung around and gave me sage advice: "pretend you're under water and breathing out through your nose," one said. Right. I'd have to learn to swim first so I could learn how to smoke. Something wrong with the progression there.
Cigarettes were vile, stinky, choke-inducing things. I was happy to not have to smoke. Those young men who did surreptitiously sneak a drag from Raja shook their heads in disbelief. What they wouldn't give to smoke on stage, right in front of the scandalised eyes of all the teachers and students!
The years went by, and I was able to resist the temptation to smoke. Easy, because I didn't like it. Hard to say when that changed. Bombay, almost certainly. My flatmate and I would buy two Gold Flakes and bring them back after having our lassi dinner at the corner of PMGP. We felt terribly wicked. Then, at the FTII where cigarettes were the first step to other 'breeliaant staaf', smoking felt commonplace - something you did to occupy idle fingers, aid thought, while away the time...whatever.
Now, I smoke once in a while, mostly when I'm not in town. Now is when the first drag is pure, 24 carat pleasure. Which is why I couldn't help a smile when my friend David says:
So I told Mr. Gao my theory about smoking. Those who are well settled in life and have a feeling of leisure, may smoke a pipe. Those who are a bit more pressured / busy / anxious, can smoke a cigar. Those who are really harried / on-the-go / nervous, will smoke a cigarette. XD and Mr. Gao laughed. Then Mr. Gao told me his own theory. He said that a pipe is like one's wife. A cigar is like an affair with a lover. A cigarette resembles a prostitute. (It is not uncommon among Chinese to pass around a cigarette from one person to another. A cigar requires a special atmosphere to enjoy it. A pipe can be a constant companion, and is never shared.) He said that he told his wife this analysis. She then bought him a pipe to smoke. So perhaps my gift of Dutch cigars was superfluous.
Of course, I'm completely unpromiscuous about cigarettes; hate sharing them. And would never consider having a cigar, whatever Pink Floyd may say. Or a pipe!
PS: Please note that I am not advocating smoking. Nobody reading this should assume I'm making the whole thing glamorous. Hospitals and COPD are completely uncool, as is the hacking cough that will disable all conversation and tie everyone up in knots of anxiety while they try to recall the ambulance numbers of nearby hospitals.
My pleasure in smoking comes from the fact that I don't smoke often and when I do, I enjoy it. Moderation is everything. Lecture over.