â€œDo you knowâ€? enquired Rakesh Kumar, a local auto rickshaw driver, lighting a bidi â€œwhoâ€™s the biggest bloody killer in the world?â€? I expected this to be a reference to Bluelines, as a bus had just whizzed past us. â€œWho?â€? I asked, nonetheless. â€œThese bloody tobacco companiesâ€?, he said, blowing out a lungful of bidi-smoke. Since this is a translation, Iâ€™ve replaced all the colourful expletives he used with the word â€œbloodyâ€? to make this piece a little more acceptable to its reader. â€œReally?â€? I asked ironically, â€œthen why do you smoke?â€? â€œOh Iâ€™m just another bloody victim, Sirji. Iâ€™m just a victim of circumstance and a dangerous bloody predator.â€? Replied Rakesh, not quite as witty as Wilde, but still displaying the sort of profundity and insight that eludes most of my contemporaries, let alone lowly Auto-Rick drivers. â€œWhat is your excuse?â€? he added, a little cheekily, in my opinion. â€œOhâ€¦Iâ€¦same as you, bad habit, I know.â€? I responded, feebly. At least, the smart ass was charging me by Meter for this wonderful chat. Rakesh proceeded to reveal, in explicit and unnecessary detail, a truly awful tale of Tuberculosis, Cancer and Impotency and the suffering of his poor family, smoking a succession of bidis in the process. He claimed to have escaped the curse with just a minor cough and a slightly unpredictable erectile condition.
Well, it so happens that the noble DUSU, in association with the even nobler varsity police and government officials, is on a mission to ban smoking in educational institutions. â€œDUSU prepares to kick buttâ€?, quips a headline in the HT. The article that follows details DUSUâ€™s grand plan. The law clearly states that cigarette-and-other- tobacco-product vendors are not supposed to sell their products within 100 meters of an educational institute. We all know this law is a bit of a joke though. As we struggle to name educational institutes without a paanwallah or two conveniently installed right outside their gates – and in JNUâ€™s case, even within the Campus premises. Well, as a smoker, I wouldnâ€™t mind walking a hundred and one meters to a paanwallah, nor would it affect me gravely if the DUSU were to succeed in its bold bid to make colleges smoke-free. However, in the North Campus this equation is a little more complicated, as a paanwallah a hundred and one meters away from one college is right opposite another. So, it is possible that persons from certain colleges may have to walk rather more than a hundred meters if this law is properly enforced. After all, with the formidable and competent powers that be – the DUSU, police varsity and government officials – fighting for this great cause, we can only have utmost faith that this law will be smoothly enforced. Their clever strategy is to fine the offenders, and repeat-offenders can even be handed a three month jail sentence. We do hope this system is as transparent as it promises to be and it does not become a smoke-screen for further exploitation.
There are a number of smokers, however, who are unhappy with DUSUâ€™s fine proposal and feel that they must have the right to do whatever they wish. There is even a suggestion that this entire campaign is aimed at deflecting attention from other major flaws in the system. â€œAs noble as this venture appears to be, there are more significant issues that the DUSU ought to tackle firstâ€? argues one critic of this campaign, â€œFor example, bringing an end to hooliganism and brutal squabbles between various political factions in DU, making the campus safe for women, a crack down on drugs â€“ to name just a fewâ€?. Some smokers feel that smoking makes college life, on the whole, a lot more bearable, and is an indispensable part of college-culture but their position is somewhat weakened by the rational and balanced outlook of the non smoker. â€œThis is matter of health and in the 21st century, a habit as regressive as smoking should not be given freedom to grow in our educational institutes. Go ahead. Smoke your cigarettes, but in the privacy of your homesâ€?, says one non- smoker. â€œWhere the only damage you do is to your own bodyâ€?, he adds, vindictively.
But as my Auto Rickshaw driver friend Rakesh succinctly pointed out, as long as there are companies worth billions and billions of rupees, making a shameless profit out of this business, we are not likely to be rid of this addictive habit.
Picture courtesy Archan Ghose
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