The stares never fail to fix and follow. With their mix of shock and unapologetic disbelief, they have taunted me for a good two years. Its all about a little getting used to, which in all its unfairness means you just got to pretend like they don’t exist. If you’re a smoker that is, and if you happened to belong to the fairer sex.
We’ve never had it easy. And with the waves of change hitting the kochi shores, we don’t want to settle in for anything less. Is it the baseless sexist approach that needs to change? Or is it the whole damsel in distress drama that seems so safe to play? In short, are the men in our society to blame or the women? I say both, because I know men who cant seem to let their nicotine cravings down but will not (nay-ver!) take a smoker for a wife and I know women for whom the presence of a cigarette plays a more pivotal role than any character.
But all hope is not lost! Though I have had to bear the brunt of the ignorance led spite, I did manage to find a close knit group of friends for whom my smoking habits aren’t a source of concern. It’s the respect they have for my personal choice of a lifestyle, moreover it’s the respect they have for the privacy of a 20 something girl for whom smoking is as indulgent as say, shopping and eating out is. Of course they worry about my health, but they do know I’m sensible enough to realize what is best for me. As for me, it’s just another dog eared page in my imaginary book of life.
From the friendly Kochi police inspector who thought I was trying to be European (?), to the thunderbolt struck classmates who chose to write me off, to a mother who blames the sun for her daughter’s darkened lips, to shopkeepers who think they imagined my hurried “chetta, oru pack kings”, bartenders who lend me custom made match boxes convinced I‘m not a malayalee, friends who think kochi isn’t the place for me, friends who think kochi needs more women like me, kochi for whom my nicotinic sensibilities are twenty years too early, its been a rough ride albeit hilarious.
The prudent prejudice has to go, the patronizing star struck approach has to go. I wait for the day when I can let out a ring of smoke with as much abandon as the guy seated beside me can. Until then, I have no choice but to remain stuck in between stares; one that are flung to me like curses born out of a society’s stubborn mindset and the other, a welcoming single-eyed tobacco filled one born out of man’s need to escape and his right to indulge. And they both chorus out, burn baby, burn.