Smoking: Indian Style


Smoking on a Houseboat

Every smoking society has its own lingo and culture associated with smoking. In the course of history Smoking has become an established ritual symbolizing manhood and patriarchal discourse. Indian society also displays a unique inventory of things related to smoking and the associated jargon. Thus it is not surprising to come across words akin to smoking which are commonly known to smokers and non -smokers alike. Though there are some which are exclusively used by the smokers only. In Northern part of India (the cow belt) smoking is performed through various means like age old Hukkaa (an old world tool consisting of two spherical parts one of which condenses tobacco smokes coming out of the other in water and which in turn is smoked using a pipe or stem), Biidii (dry tobacco rolled in Tendu leaf [Diospyros melonoxylon] and tied with a colored thread at the tip), Chilam (a earthen or metal bowl with stem to smoke tobacco mixed with Marijuana leaf (cannabis sativa) locally known as Gaanjaa and of course through cigarettes.

Hukkaa (Hookah) is on decline. Once considered a mark of bourgeoisie culture introduced by Arab travelers in India, it has now been restricted to rural and semi urban settings (so you can still find the good old Hukka smokers in the outskirts of Delhi and inside old Delhi). Hukkas used to be the instruments of social gathering in society where people practiced communal smoking around one Hukka. Thus we come across Hindi idioms such as Hukkaa-paanii band karnaa (meaning to outcaste someone).Today it has acquired a status of an antique piece to be displayed in the drawing rooms of the middle class.

Biidiis on the other hand are thriving despite having a tough competition by cigarettes. When you go to shop for Biidi you never ask by calling it Biidii but by calling Bandal (from English Bundle). Unlike cigarettes, you cannot buy them loose in India but you will have to buy the whole pack except you are taking it for free or you are in Kolkata where it is said even cigarettes cut in two halves are sold individually. In fact almost all famous Biidii brands are from West Bengal state of India and it is still the biggest manufacturer. Some of the famous Biidii brands are Pal, Tiin Pattaa, Shankar, Ganesh, 501 etc. Biidii smoking is also recognized with the Naxalbari movement of Bengal of 1970s and 1980s. Like the Cuban Cigars of Che Guerra, Biidiis used to enjoy the status of proletariat symbol of intoxication. Unlike cigarettes it would be improper to light a Biidii by holding it between your lips. Biidiis are going to stay in hinterlands for the days to come.

Cigarettes in India come in three sizes Kingsize, Regular and Micro. Out of these three micro-cigarettes are the most popular among masses as in other developing nations of Asia. Some of the popular brands are Classic, Wills Navy Cut, Goldflake, Capstan, Charminar , India kings, More etc owned mostly by two biggest manufactures viz ITC and Godfrey Phillips. People all over the country use different names for the same brand of cigarettes. For example in Delhi Gold Flake King-Size is known called Badi Gold Flake (as there is another micro version of the same brand known as Choti Gold Flake) whereas in South India (for example Bangalore) it is simply called King-Size. Similarly Wills Navy Cut is called Navy Cut in Delhi but in Mumbai it is known as Filter and in Kolkata it is called Wills. In the western world as cigarettes rhyme well with coffee, in North India they are usually accompanied by tea. Cigarette smoking is generally perceived to be a classy thing done mostly by rich or educated. Among the more passionate smokers, handmade cigarettes are used which are just rolled immediately for lighting by the smokers but without filters.

3 thoughts on “Smoking: Indian Style

  1. stopped by…while looking for hukka styles in India, in context of my new theater plot. quite conducive ! If I am not wrong, were you in chs agra ?

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