Saturday, November 21, 2015

Phantom Sweet Cigarettes - The Best Time Machine Ever


This blog was first published here

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

Then adolescence peeked from around an unmarked corner and a thought that it just might be brilliant to grow up took shape. We needed to change and so we started looking around. For the first time we noticed those cool older kids from out of town, mostly visiting cousins of friends. Some wore red bandannas. Some wore smug looks brought on by the fact that their reckless fathers did not mind them taking the rickety Bajaj Chetak for a swing . 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 avoid.

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 thought of. 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? 

Phantom. A sweet ride that took you from being a scrawny, shy kid to a cool gangster with a blonde by his arm. 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 growing longer every moment the tables have turned. Now, we do many things that help us be kids again. With ignorance no longer an ally, and realization of growing old strong and steady; some of our attempts to be young are forced and well…clich├ęd. 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 one comes 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 me of what it was like to be a kid once. Taking on the wind on , playing carefree with ghosts from that 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.

Gaurav Parab is the author of Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora , the story of a man child on the run. Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora by Gaurav Parab [Hachette] was listed by the Times of India and Business Standard as one of 5 weekend reads , The Hindu calls it a Genre bender, The Statesman ‘An Almost Perfect Debut, The Lucknow tribune calls it a debut to remember, The Pioneer calls it Cinematic, The Vistara Air inflight magazine a Good Book on the Shelf, the Sakaal times says its ‘sheer brilliance in storytelling’ while the Bangalore Mirror calls it an unforgettable story. It is available in leading bookstores and online here




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