How do you feel when you see Indian women smoking?

Answer by Raakhee Venugopal:

Thank you for the A2A.

It’s not something I support. But I prefer to keep my opinion to myself. I have a problem in being in the vicinity of anybody who smokes as cigarette smoke gives me migraines. I just can’t stand the stench of nicotine on somebody’s breath. When I realize that somebody is a smoker, I try to stay away from them consciously.

Smoking was not a popular activity among women in the society I grew up in. While growing up, I have occasionally seen some old servant ladies smoke a beedi in stealth. Besides that, I have never seen women smoking ‘socially’. It was an exclusive male activity back then. During my childhood, smoking was seen as a sign of manliness…what with all those ads for brands like Rothman’s and Marlborough that oozed machismo in every frame. My young mind couldn’t imagine anything like that being done by a lady.

The first time I saw an Indian lady with a cigarette was at a restaurant at Connaught Place in Delhi back in 1994. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant. It had a bar at the ground floor and the restaurant was on the mezzanine/balcony. When we looked from where we were sitting, we could see the entire bar downstairs. It was lunchtime and bustling with activity. That’s when I spotted a lady, probably in her 40s, at one of the tables with a bunch of other people. She was in a crisp cotton saree and had neatly trimmed short hair, and she was sipping a drink and smoking casually. I couldn’t believe what I saw and kept staring at her until Mom told me to look away as it was rude to stare.

Today a lot of my girlfriends drink alcohol and smoke. It used to be unsettling at first, probably because I’m still very old-school. But now, I have trained myself to just ignore it. To me, a cigarette looks very out of place between the fingers of a woman. But then again, it’s my personal opinion.

A friend of mine opined that many of the women smokers happened as an act of defiance against patriarchy. What started off as defiance went on to become an enjoyable habit. Her cousin sister smokes and she recounted a conversation she had with her when this topic cropped up.

I don’t have to be a guy to be able to smoke or drink. I will do as I please. And who said cigarettes are only for men? Duh!

Women who smoke surely have their own reasons for doing it. And I don’t think it’s any of my business to judge them. I don’t like it, and I won’t do it. I guess that’s all what matters.

How do you feel when you see Indian women smoking?


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