World No Tobacco Day is observed across the globe on May 31 every year. It is aimed at encouraging people to abstain from consuming tobacco for 24 hours and raising awareness about the hazardous effects of tobacco consumption on a person's health and well-being.
In India, much before a nationwide edict prohibiting smoking in all public places, came into effect on October 2, 2008, to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, we have been used to seeing the “Smoking Strictly Prohibited” sign in public buses. The 'strictly' part of the sign was applicable only while the conductor was going from seat to seat to give tickets. Once he completed the round and settled on the front seat to share a smoke with the driver, several of the passengers followed suit to have the pleasure of smoking a cigarette or preferably a 'bidi', the common-man's smoke in the countryside. This was the norm except when the driver or the conductor or a passenger belonged to the Sikh community, who religiously stopped smoking in the bus. So, the smoking ban in the buses was usually enforced by a stray presence of a Sikh in the buses. I wonder how the countrywide ban could be enforced, especially in the most parts where Sikhs' presence is minimal. Of course, the enforcement agencies like the local police force is there to see the regulation is rigidly complied with by the public. But who knows the ban might be working as a windfall for them! Another source of income added for the resourceful policeman, may be more lucrative than the long ongoing ones like committing driving or parking offenses or indecent behavior in public places. Anyway, if we can really enforce the smoking ban, like they are already doing in many countries, it will go a long way to ensure better health for the nation. Research shows that bans decrease the overall number of cigarettes people smoke and in some cases, actually result in people quitting.
However, It might be far-fetched to imagine smoking becoming obsolete in India, a country where 'bidi' smoking is a countrywide culture. Mention of ‘bidi’ reminds me of a chance meeting with the Mughal - E- Azam of acting, late Prithviraj Kapoor, who used to smoke bidis. It happened many decades ago when my sister called me from Bombay to inform that my brother-in-law, Surendra, veteran singer-actor of early era, was going to Amritsar for a shooting and would be taking connecting flight at Palam airport in New Delhi; he would appreciate if we could give him company while waiting for the connecting flight to take off. I along with my wife went to the airport and were in time to receive him there. And what a pleasant surprise for us, he was accompanied by Prithviraj Kapoor, the great. They were both going to Amritsar for shooting of a Punjabi movie in which they both worked as best friends. While sipping coffee in the airport lobby, he lit a ‘bidi’ for which he had to make a little effort and before we could ask him on his liking for a bidi instead of cigarette, he took the initiative to explain: “Cigarette is like a wife, you lit her once she remains lit all her life, but bidi is like a girlfriend, you have to keep paying her constant attention otherwise she would be off (mood).”
With regards and best wishes for TE3N and PINK