Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Of Cigarettes and Smells and Books

I sometimes think things for no apparent reason. Do you all do that, I wonder. So this afternoon, as I hit the panic button (for something unrelated to this post), I suddenly thought of cigarette smoke and books. I was sipping on green tea, just like I am doing now as I type this. Green tea is thankfully not also green in colour; I would never want to drink it if it were so. That, by the way, is the latest addiction; the first addiction that is supposedly healthy. Or so the health magazines say.

On cigarettes and smoke. I began to think of this old lecturer of mine who was once so impressed with my writing (blowing my own trumpet here, be warned!) that he would give me outrageously generous marks in college, once even more than what was allotted! No, I did not complain! For a few years he used to live in Madikeri and would come home to dine with us several times in a week. He was never a conversationalist, preferring instead to sit in the veranda of my house, look at the hills in the backdrop and puff away at his cigarette. The first time he came home, he had got me a book, a collection of Kannada essays. I still have that book somewhere. He had written something in the first page; I forget now what it said.

The first play I ever watched with the knowledge that it was a play was 'The Accidental Death of an Anarchist', based on one of Brecht's stories, I think. This lecturer of mine was the one who got the group to perform in our hopelessly, culturally-not-encouraging town. That's how he became a family friend. The flip side was that I had to henceforth pretend to be attentive in his rather boring classes.

He lived in a cozy little house on the other side of town. We visited him sometimes. That's where my memory of smoke and books come from. Owing to his habit, there was a layer of tobacco flavoured dust forever attached to the fantastic collection of books he had accumulated; one that needless to say I would park myself in front of all the time. He introduced me to Chomsky, though back then I had returned the book without fully reading it. He gave anti-war speeches, the year was 2001-02. Once in a rare while, he displayed a wry sense of humour.

I don't smoke and I only barely tolerate the smell of tobacco, for the sole reason that several of my friends smoke. But somehow, when I think of that small, low roofed house he lived in, the one from which you couldn't air out the smell of his fine blended cigarettes, I invariably think of books and writing and things 'intellectual' (I use that word with much trepidation here).
I think random things at random times.

Staying on the subject of smells and books, I have a thing for the smell of old books. For the longest time ever, I kept this to myself, thinking how strange it would sound to tell someone that I would actually stand along the musty shelves of the district library back home and flip the pages of an old book, close to my face and breathe in the yes, dust too, and the 'smell'. Then several bookworms like me confessed that they did so too.

I can't describe the smell really; it is musty, yes, but it feels...homely perhaps? When I pick up a new book, freshly unpacked, I don't get that sense of something. An old book's smell is sort of a connection with the unknown people who have turned its pages before me, there is just something warm and comforting I guess.

As it turns out, it need not be an old book to bring that fragrance to my memory, even a warm blanket, a fire, strange other completely unrelated things will do so too. Sometimes it is not the memory that is overpowering, as much as something that triggers it in the first place is overwhelming. Isn't that why we seek/avoid, as the case may be, certain songs, certain roads, certain lines from films, places, things...?

The new year did not start off on a good note. A dear friend is trying to cope up with something terribly sad. I can only hope for her to have the strength to bear up. I haven't had a dream run either, these few days into the year. But I also know it'll get better. What do they call it? Ah, yes, Hope.


Captain Nemo said...

Hope Springs Eternal, indeed. I hope it all works out well eventually.

Deepa Bhasthi said...

Thank you :)