“Teju my man. Wassup. I heard you got your surgery done. Free for a smoke? Or will that bother your eye? I’m headed to the same spot as usual. See you there in 20?” And before I could say a word, he hung up. Typical of Prithvi.
We had not seen each other in quite some time, partly due to the pandemic, partly because he was a lawyer now, and partly because I had gotten an ICL surgery done and had been recovering from the same. But I really wanted to see him. I missed his company and his over-the-top random philosophy that rarely ever made sense. And most importantly, it was the first drizzle of the 2020 monsoon. The sweet smell of petrichor kept calling out for me. And I to the sweet taste of a garam (clove cigarette).
As we sat, surrounded by the smell of tobacco, memories of our past adventures came flooding back to me. I remember the days when we used to indulge in the simple pleasures of life, such as enjoying a garam in the rain, while chewing on a melody (a piece of chocolate we used to get for the change out of buying a cigarette). It was a common sight back then, as the melody and halls toffees would often be sold alongside the cigarettes in compensation for chump change. You see, back then cigarettes used to sell for 18 rupees a stick. And shopkeepers rarely had that 2 rupees change for that 20 rupees note. So, on almost every occasion, instead of getting the loose change, we’d get two melodies. These small luxuries were within reach for most people, and they added a touch of sweetness to the daily routine…
In fact, this is how it has been for generations in India. Cigarettes have almost always been sold for just under the 10, 15, or 20 rupee mark. And thus, the 1 rupee and 2 rupee confectionaries have been a major market in India. Even in the earliest of times when I used to smoke, when cigarettes were sold for 8 to 9 rupees a stick, the confectionary market was pretty much monopolized by Perfetti Van Melle’s Alpenliebe.
As time went on, Alpenliebe was replaced over and over by other confectionaries that garnered greater attraction in the television spotlight and in the minds of the aam aadmi (simple man). One such confectionary was Parle’s Melody and its signature tagline “Melody Itni Chocolatey Kyu Hai?” (Why is Melody so chocolatey?). The ad campaign was a huge success and became popular among consumers, especially the younger generation. The campaign's emphasis on the product's chocolatey taste, celebrity endorsement, creative execution, social media integration, and distribution strategy helped make it a huge success. The campaign not only helped create brand awareness but also increased the product's sales and market share.
…As we looked around the shop, we noticed that the toffees were no longer being sold alongside the cigarettes. The shopkeeper informed us that the rise of UPI technology had made it difficult to sell low-cost items like toffees as the concept of loose change had pretty much vanished. People could now pay the exact amount without having to ever worry about loose change. As a result, the toffees were becoming increasingly rare, and the simple pleasures we had previously enjoyed were becoming harder to come by.
“I know what you are looking for. Melody right? I had kept 2 pieces just for this occasion, in this box labeled ‘I could feel it’ after that piece you had written. Do you remember that one?”
Out of sheer disbelief, I raised my eyebrow and grinned at him, “Hang on. You remember that. I don’t believe you.” And without a moment of hesitation, Prithvi took his phone out of his pocket, scrolled around a bit, and started to read out this old piece I had written years ago:
“Once I’d hit the certain threshold of sweat, I quit, grabbed my bag, and walked straight into the cold winter air, still huffing. I felt around my pocket for my cigarettes, lumped together like a damp little brick of cash next to my keys.
As the smoke began to fill my chest, my shoulders lifted so much that my keys actually rolled over in my jacket pocket. It was like my mouth was full of something viscid and metallic. My throat seemed to radiate heat forward and backward in the space where I stood. There was a taste, a little like burnt popcorn. I touched my tongue to the roof of my mouth, a gesture meant to calm the incipient cough; it hit there, a little electric.
I pulled in more smoke, blowback from the cold wind in my face, and my lungs, raw and open from the workout, were suddenly soaked in that smoke. The light of the world fell on me, soluble and absolute, and I looked around to see if anyone was watching, half hoping they were. I became a little high, something like all the other highs I had known of.
My lungs were scissored by the hit. I had two stray thoughts: Something is wrong — the ground rushed up at me, and I thought I might fall — and something was right — I was giddy, eager to see what would happen next. I lowered myself to one knee. Then I inhaled again, cherried up the ember.
The sky loomed bigger and my car seemed further away from where I stood, wobbling a little under the serious weight of the drags. I rose the cigarette again, drew on it, and suddenly, the moon seemed to jerk upwards like a fish tugging on a line. I walked to my car, extra slow, savoring the glacial cool in my mouth, and the burn in my chest.
I had been a smoker for barely a week, and this was the first one that really worked up. I guess I hadn’t been inhaling it right. But I was now. For the first time, I could feel it.”
“I read this quite often, you know”, laughed Prithvi with an odd expression of joy on his face. “When I am smoking a cigarette. And every time I read this, I can’t help but think of how good a cigarette tastes with a melody. And so I got these two to enjoy in the rain.”
As we enjoyed those little pieces of joy along with the clove cigarettes, we couldn’t help but ponder upon how the times have changed. It seems that the small luxuries that once brought us joy have become casualties of modernity.
As we reminisced on these old memories, I could not help but feel a sense of nostalgia. The world has changed so much since those days. Indeed, it is easy to get caught up in the complexities of the modern world. But as we sat in that cigarette shop, surrounded by the smell of tobacco and memories of the past, I felt a sense of peace. The world may change, but the memories we create will always remain.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the pace of modern life. But I believe that these simple pleasures are still within reach if we take the time to seek them out. And perhaps, one day, the melody will once again be sold alongside the cigarettes. But even if they are not, I will always cherish the memories of those simple pleasures, and the joy they brought to our lives.