A Cigarette Shop

Vishal Sudarshanwar


Copyright 2018 by Vishal Sudarshanwar


Photo of an Indian cigarette shop.

There are many Cigarette Shops in my area but I like to buy cigarettes from a tiny shop situated next to my residential society. It’s rusty box of tin, stands on four rotten legs of wooden which are supported by some bricks & stones underneath. This cigarette shop is run by a thin & short 70-80 yrs. old lady, whose back is bent slightly forward, her all hairs turned grey and whose all teeth, except the front three teeth, are broken but probably not her willpower. She knows Marathi & speaks little Hindi language too but understands everything. She lives in a small hut behind her shop with her family but I have never met or seen any of her family members. I call her “AAJI” which means “Grandmother” in Marathi language. My Real grandmother passed away in my childhood and I have no fond memories of her.

I live alone in Mumbai for few years. I ran away from Home to become an Actor therefore my family stopped talking to me but, later, we started few telephonic conversations to let each other know that We Care. I have to work as salesman in a private firm to support myself financially and to survive in Mumbai. I deliberately chose to be a salesman so that I can be out of office for client meetings. And most of my client meetings are my acting auditions.

I started smoking cigarettes on the day I landed in Mumbai. Now, How many cigarettes do I smoke? Well! That depends on how much depression & pressure a person feels in a day. Sometime, I smoke 15 cigarettes, sometime 25 but average 20 cigarettes in a day. I don’t buy whole packet of 20 cigarettes at once, instead, I buy 3 to 5 cigarettes 3 to 5 times in a day. Because we, smokers believe that if we buy cigarettes in small number rather than whole packet then we would smoke less cigarettes. However it’s a Myth and not a math.

I meet Aaji 3 to 5 times in a day. On asking “How are you”, she asks me few questions back–

How is your boss?”

You again ran away from office?”

Why did you do that?”

And then she starts laughing herself. I also join her in laughter and we both start making fun of my Boss. I start telling her that how does my boss torture and insult us in the morning sales meetings and she starts abusing my boss in Marathi language-

Kutraya” “Melya” & “Pagal” which mean ‘Dog’, ‘Dead’ & ‘Crazy guy’ respectively, and we both burst into laughter. I feel good. My morning sales meetings stress get vaporized in the evening meetings with Aaji.

I kept run away from office for my so called client meetings(Auditions) for few more months then, one fine day, My boss called me to inform thatI am free to do as many clients meetings as I want and I don’t need to come back to office ever again”. Means, I am fired. If You are jobless in Mumbai, You are Dead. However, I am not that worry as this was my 7th job in last 5 years and I had survived every time. I will survive this time too but without cigarette! So it’s time to do some real math and no more myth. 1 cigarette costs Rs.15 & 20 cigarettes costs me Rs.300 per day so Rs.9000 for whole month.

I know ‘Tigers never eat grass even if they can’t hunt’. But tigers don’t live in Mumbai too. In tough time, ‘Adaptation’ & ‘Adjustment’ are two best relatives in Mumbai & who don’t have them, they live elsewhere in the Country. And my new ‘Adaptation’ name is “BIDI” ,a local cheap smoking stick made with tobacco leaf. My 1 Cigarette costs Rs. 15 and I can buy 20 BIDIs in Rs. 20 only. So, I became an ultra-mild person and did most needed ‘Adjustment’ in my smoking habit. I started smoking BIDIs.

In the evening when I asked “Aaji” to give some packet of “Bidi”, she stared at me for a while and then started shouting –

What? Did you again lost the job? Why did you do so?”

And so many questions and my answer is-

Which is a good brand of “BIDI?”

Aaji was worried but I assured her that I would find some job soon. She keeps that costly cigarette brands only for me and/or perhaps for few more clients in her small shop. She gave me whole packet of my cigarettes immediately, which I didn’t want to buy but she insisted. No, she didn’t take money for that packet which was probably the last packet she might have bought for me to sale but she just handed over to me. Receiving whole packet of cigarette as a gift while being jobless in Mumbai city is like somebody paid Rent for the whole month. However I didn’t like the gift because she depends & survives on selling cigarettes. If her family supports her financially then the Cigarette shop might have not existed. I tried hard to calculate her earnings while smoking a cigarette but failed to analyse her heart. Later, I returned home with that gift & unconditional love from Dear Aaji.

It was an adorable gift but unfortunately I could not keep it in showcase as beautiful memory. The packet ends next day and my Job search begins. The numbers of Job interviews & auditions are increasing and the groceries are decreasing day by day. Sometime there are few good meetings, sometime bad ,sometime none but one good meeting is always fixed in same time, same place with same person that is with “Aaji’ at her cigarette shop in the evening. I tell her about my auditions & interviews which she listens to patiently and then she replies with smile –

You will get job, Do not worry. Want to smoke a cigarette?”

I smile and reply –

No, I like Bidi now days and yes I will get job.”

I got another sales job within a month. But this time, I got it in a bigger company with higher designation, better salary and worse Boss. Now, work pressure has gone higher than before so do the number of my cigarettes smoking too. I have to be in sales meetings more than before so I meet Aaji less. Hence I buy whole cigarette packet on the way to home or to office and sometime I forget to pay. There are some Rs. 200-400 payments are due which I forgot to pay. One day, Aaji told me that she cannot give me credit any more until I clear previous payments. I feel bad because I have been buying cigarette only from her despite there are many cigarette shops nearby my home & office. I cleared all the dues immediately and told her that I would not buy cigarettes from her anymore and went ahead to another shop.

I pass by her shop every day and go ahead in next lane to buy cigarettes. I did it for seven more days then one fine day when I was passing by her shop , she called me -

Hey ! Why do you go there? Come and take your cigarette packet”

I immediately went to her without a second thought. Perhaps, the bunch of cigarette packets have been gathered with her and the bunch of my new Boss’s stories have been gathered with me which we both desperately wanted to share with each other and we did. We had many short term fights in the past too and we always made up so easily in a week time or so.

After, I am done with my new boss stories and she is done abusing my new boss, she wanted to close shop for an evening break. She closes shop at 7 pm every day to prepare her diner then reopens later in night around 9 pm . So I took my cigarettes for the night and wished her “Good Night”.

Good Night” -She replied in English with big smile. She speaks in English twice in a day, when she greets me “Good morning” in morning and  and Good Night” in night. I returned home with her greeting & a big laughter .

Next day, I got up late as its Saturday off. 5 days work in a week is the only good thing in my new company. So I got ready for some auditions and left. I stopped by Aaji’s shop but it’s closed so I called her twice. Sometime she comes from home and opens the shop’s backdoor for me and gives cigarettes but today she didn’t . I was in hurry so I went ahead to next shop & bought cigarettes and went for the auditions. I finished my all auditions by the evening , all went well. While returning home, I again stopped by Aaji’s shop but it’s still closed. That surprised me as she hardly closes her shop for any reason that too without informing me in advance. I again called her but she didn’t come out. A guy who has cycle repair shop nearby, approached me and informed –

AAJI fell down on her head on the floor after dinner last night, she lost too much of blood and She passed away by early morning at 6 am. Her funeral has also been performed by her family by 8 am. I called you in noon when you stopped by shop but you left in hurry.”

I stood there for a while, listening to him; shocked and stunned , staring at closed shop, wishing to see her face for at least once, to talk to her for last time, asks her that how could she leave without informing me but I returned home without any answer and with long silent. I cried like child, thinking that I could never see her again; I can never talk to her again, I can never meet her again in my life. I never cried so much before. My sorrow got turned into fear when I realised that I am Alone in Mumbai all of sudden without AAJI. I used to think that I was courageous enough to survive alone in Mumbai. I worked with so many people, spent several weekends with hundreds of friends in last 6 yrs. but there was only one person whom I used to share everything with that is – “AAJI”. You will find so many people to talk with in Mumbai but you rarely find someone who listens to you. She listened to me every time and everything I told her, even when those things had nothing to do with her. I kept crying for next 3 days, I didn’t know, on what? Whether I was missing her or scared that who would listen to me now.

A month passed by and New Year arrived. I decided randomly not to smoke anymore. I don’t know whether it was New Year resolution or for my acting career or something else. It was very difficult to quit smoking but there was some strong willpower which supported me to quit smoking and I did.

It has been 2 years without cigarette and Aaji . I still live in same residential society. I still pass by Aaji’s cigarette shop everyday which has been ruined & closed. There are many people live alone in Mumbai who might think , just like I used to think that they are all alone but there must be someone in their lives. I am still struggling & surviving alone in Mumbai but I am sure that there must be someone with me. And I hope, I would recognise them before I lose them.

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