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An Ode to the Faceless Soldier

What is common to?

Seetharamiah – a small scale farmer in Ongole

Muniraju Reddy – a wholesaler at Rajahmundry

Alex Mathew – a Sales and Marketing Professional covering Southern India

Gopal Rao – a successful dealer having is network across Karnataka

Shaikat Ahmed – a Pan Shop vendor at Bangalore

And Me …

If you say Nothing at all … well think again... not just these six odd people, but in fact several lakhs of people around the country are connected through an intrinsic network… the tobacco that Seetharamiah grows reaches ITC factory in Kolkata and Bengalooru through Muniraju’s trading company. Alex Mathew the enthusiastic head of sales chasing his monthly targets at ITC, channels the finished cigarettes into pan shops like the one that Shaikat operates, through dealerships like the ones run by Gopal… and that’s where I get my daily dose of nicotine from.

The chain is very feebly represented here... it consists of several other players in its fold... the logistics that helps the tobacco from its place of origin to the gentle grip amidst my fingers, the middlemen who negotiate rates and cuts, the factory workers who give the ciggies its perfect blend and its finest finish, the entire corporate structure at the tobacco company… the list is quite extensive … but I guess you get the drift ….

Every time a smoker lights up, he is contributing to the livelihood of many of his countrymen … literally lighting up the lives of many fellow countrymen and women too (I am reliably informed that the beedi industry in India is driven by rural women folk, who have made crafting beedis their livelihood and yes a thriving cottage industry, data given below) … not just directly by what he pays for the cigarettes but also through the taxes and duties …that's used in "National Interest" as detailed below

I know most of you are averse to chewing tobacco, so here are some figures I would like you to chew on...

* The cultivation of Tobacco is restricted to 0.3% of the total cultivated area

* Tobacco cultivation and processing provides employment to more than 60 lakhs people

* The beedi industry provides employment to around 44.00 lakhs essentially unskilled rural folks mostly women

* The export figures for 2007 -2008, shows that for tobacco both processed and unprocessed the value is 2022.78 Crore (502.67 M US$) and for the period from April to July 2008 for tobacco totals up to Rs. 982.87 Crore (233.8 M US $)in terms for foreign exchange earnings

* 55 per cent of the price of cigarettes in India represents excise. On the whole cigarette is taxed at around 132% of the value of the product (ex-factory price net of taxes)

* Cigarettes contribute nearly 10 per cent of total excise to the exchequer

* The branded cigarette industry in India is valued at Rs. 15000 Crore (Year 2007)

And a small portion of this huge tax collected and foreign exchange earned does percolate to Nation building ...I say a small portion because quite of lot of it goes into important matters of governance ... like for example:

* paying up the expenses for the high powered committee to Bahamas to study the plight of Indian fishermen

* cost of running 18 ambassadors and 6 contessas in the name of Z category security for a single VIP, while the rest city gets jammed (with the car and bike engines kept purring, if I may add) waiting for the cavalcade to pass

* the print and media campaigns that proclaim the existence of a government and its so called successes ... remember “UP mein dum hain... kyonki Crime yehan kum hain" (Whoa! Would I love to meet up with the marketing team that coined that one ...) or for that matter the “India Shining (While Indians are whining)” campaign

* the lakhs that are spent on the chief ministers’ aerial survey of flood hit areas (forget the fact that the same lakhs could have been used to procure relief to the victims on ground or is it neck deep in water)

... I am not even beginning to talk about the share that gets looted along the way... which goes into building the personal assets of those in power and their cronies in bureaucracy...

You must be wondering did I come here to read all this gyaan.... I was expecting something else based on the title ... An Ode to the Faceless Soldier ... err Smoker ... well in my opinion a smoker is a soldier in his own right ... what else do you call a person who puts his/her life on the line to help sustain a nation ... its people.. its economy ... a person who readily sacrifices himself / herself for the sake of the Seetharamiahs , Muniraju Reddys, Alex Thomases and the Shaikat Ahmeds of the world ... a person who is prepared to die for his/her fellow citizens ... a soldier right? A person directly contributing to the aforementioned Rs.150000 Crore economy by p(l)aying with his/her life and indirectly to an economic process that cannot even be realistically valued ...But is he/ she ever given his/her due? In a country where its real soldiers are seldom remembered , I understand fully well that it’s too naive to expect its smokers to be valued....

The nation has always looked down on smokers, smokers have been always given a raw deal, but the latest ban is sort of the last straw... What the government is effectively telling the smoker is that, we will allow people to grow tobacco and it’s perfectly legal to process it, manufacture it and sell it. If you as a manufacturer are smart enough, we will also allow you to advertise it (so what if you make a rather a poor attempt to camouflage it as a lifestyle clothing range or try and hide behind a bravery award campaign). Whether or not March follows February, each year we will religiously hike the taxes and duties on tobacco, as a consumer you can even buy it wherever or whenever you want it ... but hey! you can’t smoke respectfully ... you can do so, in hiding or bribing the law enforcement authority (as if, they did not have enough avenues to make a buck or two on the side)

I can hear the Ministry Of Health argue, you enjoy your smoke why would you call it a sacrifice or expect to be rewarded for that ... well that is akin to asking a professional you enjoy your job why do you want to be paid for that or why would you seek a promotion ... in any case I am not advocating sops for smokers ... I am not fighting for reservations for smokers’ kids in engineering colleges, nor am I asking for discounted railway tickets or a vishisht seva medal (though I would think the smokers deserve a AVSM, at least posthumously if not during their lifetime)... I am just wondering why you can’t let smokers be... Oh we care about your health is the next line of defence...

Well if you are so concerned about my health, why don’t you ban the cultivation of tobacco, the manufacture of cigarettes and beedis and their sale? Why would you treat the symptom, rather than removing the cause? Aww well you need the money... you need to make your bi-yearly foreign trip and once in 5 years TV campaign to list out your achievements, if there is a distinct lack of achievement during your tenure, you at least need it, to fund a bailout package in the election year for the farmers succumbing to the threat of loans....

Well, the smokers of this country will magnanimously bear this assualt too, like we have been silently suffering for decades now ... for your sake Minister of Health, we will not smoke in public places and yes! for you Minister of Finance, we will still strive to keep your coffers chiming, So what? if we have to get on to the road in that pursuit.... that reminds me, a well wisher during college days had once told me, quit smioking or you will end up on the roads... how very prophetic!!!

Overheard: The Health Minister to the poor smoker “Come on child; let me help you, kick your BUTT”

PS: This write up is purely a work of satire; the author respects the Indian Soldier or for that matter any soldier, who puts his life on line, so that the rest of the country can go about their normal day to day life in peace...


Salil said...

Hi Sri,

Good to see you back in action.

I fully get your sarcasm. But the whole "thought process" (there is enough supporting research) behind banning smoking in public places is about passive smoking. Nobody has stopped you from burning yourself and people 'addicted' to smoking definitely are not going to reduce smoking (and thereby reducing money for those Bahamas trip or Z class security).

Reminds me of the quote "People always come up to me and say that my smoking is bothering them... Well, it's killing me!"

Keep them coming, buddy. Cheers,

PS: My regards to Seetharamiah, Muniraju Reddy, Alex Mathew, Gopal Rao and Shaikat Ahmed :-)

I Witness said...

Hey Salil,

Thanks for stopping by... completely agree with you on the logic behind ban on smoking in public places ... but don't you think designated smoking zones are a better way of dealing with it ?


PS: Shaikat has shut down his pan shop, the rest have been conveyed your regards !!!

Salil said...

If you keep writing such sarcastic blogs, it is a matter of time before the government yields and sets up designated smoking zones.

PS: Congrats, I have blog-rolled you! :-)

PRG said...

Hi Sri,
Came through Salil and man am I happy? I had given up the nicotine cravings for the last 4 months and you almost had me back in the fold with your irrefutable logic.

I Witness said...


Thanks for stopping by to record your feedback... I am glad you did not succumb to the temptation ... I myself am still trying my best to give it up


PRG said...

All the best for your attempts to kick the butt, for your sake and that of your family

Nathan said...


Read this up before you start talking economics and money.

My point is that you are not talking about the unseen. If you didn't smoke a pack a week, you would have saved a 100 a week, 5000 a year and spent on something else or saved. The farmer would have grown some other crop and the government would be spending less on the babus to inspect the factory for excise evasion etc etc....