Sunday, May 04, 2014

Phantom Sweet Cigarettes - The Best Time Machine Ever

Gaurav Parab is the author of Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora the quirkiest book you will read this year.

As children, we always believed that we would be kids forever. The timelessness of every single day floated lightly in the air, existence completely swinging between the playground and the classroom. We were fine, as long as we cleared those pesky maths exams and did not bust our heads open while tearing down the slopes on our BSA cycles. Elders were meant to take care of everything else. That was the deal life had handed to us.

Then adolescence peeked from around the corner, and a thought took shape that it might be brilliant to grow up. We needed to change and as we looked around, for the first time in our lives we noticed those cool older kids from out of town, mostly visiting cousins of friends. Some wore red bandannas. Some had a smug look on their face, encouraged by reckless fathers to ride those rickety Bajaj Chetaks. And some plain delightful badasses who smoked behind the badminton court; waiting for a younger kid to see them, so they could coolly throw the butt on the ground; and crush it under their Action shoes. Slowly. Deliberately. Far off look in their eyes. Like only crazy cats can do.

Cigarettes. We were told they were bad. Smoking gave you every disease ever given, and put you on a one way trip through the darkest, fiercest, most foul smelling hell that even Skeletor would not dare step into.

Was there an easy way to do this as a twelve year old?

Enter Phantom Sweet Cigarettes. My god, those beautiful Phantom Sweet Cigarettes. With that cool goggle wearing dude, with a beard that only God could have created. What was the matter with that stranger on the packet? Was there a jungle to be saved. Was he worried that he did not feed Devil in time? He was amazing.

Phantom. A sweet, almost nauseating ride that took you in your mind from being a scrawny, shy kid to a cool gangster who could get a blonde by his arm, if he only cared for it. Let it hang loosely on your lower lip, Parab. Yeah. Thats the way. 

Today, as not so young adults, with the shadow of middle age ominously growing longer every passing day; we do many things to try to be kids again. With ignorance no longer an ally, and realization of growing old strong and steady; some of these attempts to be honest are forced and well…clichéd. Expensive trips to ocean resorts to ‘let our hair down’, weekend sessions of cricket wearing fancy gear, gliding down early morning roads on our alloy Schwinn cycles, and playing Monopoly while being sloshed with expensive liquor.

These things may make life as grownups more enjoyable, but they can never truly make us fee like kids again.

Recently, I chanced upon them holy as god Phantom Sweet Cigarettes again, thanks to the missus who could never get over them (Maybe that is the secret to her almost inexhaustible childlike joy). Sure, every now and then I have come across sweets from our childhood. Those gorgeous Kismi Toffee bars, those heavenly Lactokings, the no-nonsense dollars, and the really timeless Melody Chocolates– but there is something unique about a Phantom Sweet Cigarette. There really is something about it. Sigh.

As I write this, I am a picture of contradiction, a glass of the finest Scotch in my left hand, a pack of Sweet Cigarette in my right. And sure like clockwork, after I flip open the pack and put one in my mouth - I am moved to moments and memories from far far ago. And a child long long dead, awakes.

When we were kids, Phantom made us feel like adults; brow knit and mouth puckered; thinking about big grown up problems. And today, as adults – it reminds us of what it was like to be a kid once. Taking on the wind on our BSA cycles, playing carefree with ghosts from our past, eating what only a mother can make, and living heaven all over again. All over again.

Phantom, you beauty. A time machine. That’s what you are.


Priya - Prasad said...

Nice one....Phantom was truely a"cool" thing at that point of time....... I remember drinking Canada Dry as it resembled beer....

ankit said...

Only you can narrate it this way...
Adding this to my favorites for a repeat read!

Gaurav Parab said...

Thanks PP. Yes, Canada Dry is also another blast from the past.

Gaurav Parab said...

Thanks Ankit. Appreciate the feedback.