“Ogo suncho, cigarette ta kothai rakhlam jano?”
(Darling, do you know where I kept my cigarettes?)
I was studying in my room, or at least pretending to study when Baba’s question reached my ears; I was expecting it, it was only a matter of time. This was my cue, I boldly went up to the kitchen where my mother was cooking delectable meat, for it was Sunday afternoon and where my father anxiously stood hoping to find an answer.
“I threw them out of the window.” I said with my hands downwards, punched. My father never raised a hand on me, ever. “Well”, I thought, “there’s a first time for everything”. Instead, he gave a weak hearted smile that almost made me run down and get the packet for him. Well, I couldn’t even if I wanted to, as just adjacent to our apartment was a marshland that happily consumed the packet, whole. Kolkata was not what we see today, back then.
“Dada akta Silk Cut dekhi…”
(Brother one Silk Cut please…)
The white stick demanded to be smoked, it was luring me somehow and images of my father smoking one at the end of everyday inspired me. Most sons try to impersonate their fathers, in matters good and bad, they are their heroes, after all.
I smoked one, the first drag parched my throat, a cough rose from my belly, but I desperately tried to suppress it.
“Dokandar er samne noi…”
(Not in front of the shopkeeper)
I kept repeating the lines in the back of my mind, almost chanting it like some Buddhist monk. Surprisingly enough I managed to tame the cough, most people whom I’ve seen smoking for the first time, cough. And horribly so, like a patient of whooping cough on a freak leash.
“Cigarette khas ni age? Jaah sala!”
(You haven’t smoked a cigarette yet? Oh shit!)
I immediately allowed myself to be swelled up with pride, as I had already smoked one, my first one, not more than ten minutes before him and that made me a senior. Even if by ten minutes. We both had bunked tuition for the sake of our first smoke.
He smoked oddly enough, coughing a bit, and then smiling as if intoxicated to the highest standards. Shortly after, I understood nicotine as it coursed its way through my vital organs. The world was a merry-go-round, only that I wasn’t the one in it. We gorged on rolls, noodles, chocolates and gums to rid us of the smell, only to find much later that a Re.1 Chloro-mint usually did the trick.
The doctor is sitting by me checking my pulse, his face is grave; my family’s graver. I thought of day one, how I knew going on to the other side was equivalent to not coming back. “He has lung cancer”, he finally uttered in a straight cut voice. Not only me, my whole family shared the disease. I reached out for the packet…