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Unlearning- Don’t smoke no, appa


Malavika Ravi

Alumni Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts

Don’t smoke no, appa

You’ll get cancer.

What is cancer?

I ask her


It’s a very bad disease that comes,

she says worriedly.

Really? Is it that bad?



It the worst-

she says confidently

Are you sure, my love?


You are young

You are yet to see the world

And a new life is ahead of you

But as for me,

I have already walked this path-

People are a disease.

And that is why I smoke.


I smoke because our country is torn

And the bits are catching fire.

Fire is everywhere


Why can I not light my cigarette?

At first I lit my passion in this fire

I strayed and I saw

And soon I smoked

Because what is a cigarette?

But a commodity

Which we all share; and everyone can use


And by smoking this cigarette in some way

Or by rolling this tobacco we share experience, pain, love-

Because we all smoke, don’t we?

We all burn


And through this small cigarette,

I liked to believe that even if we were commodities

We shared a light, a small hope 

But then my youth left me

With nothing but horrors I saw,


And the fire that once ignited a passion in me

Was reduced to dangerous flame that was distant but always near

And now I see Kashmir is burning

Gujarat is burning

Bastar is burning


And I see newly wed couples going around the sacred flame

Worship, ha

Don’t they see it is the visible part of the invisible fire that surrounds us?

Engulfs us


And my darling, as you steal ghee to eat from the kitchen

they pour ghee into the fire it lights up

Blind belief is ghee, my child

Never pour it into fire if you don’t want it to ignite

But you ask me why I smoke?


I smoke because each tale of rape

Each tale of death

Each tale of heart wrenching sadness

Is spirit to fire


Every tree cut down

Every forest cleared

Every Adivasi killed

We watch, and we wait

We smoke


We light our cigarettes in this fire

And they hide behind their privilege


The fire is building

And soon this world will burn

So when the world is burning

And the smoke of belief becomes a fog

What is one cigarette, my darling?


Its ash will give you light to find your friends

So why do I smoke?


I smoke to forget the itch of inaction

I smoke to rethink my privilege

I smoke and I believe that with each drag out

I am freeing thousands of people


But mostly in the invisible fire,

I light my cigarette on the same pyre that burnt a woman with her husband

To show them that they can burn women,

they can burn forests,

they can burn the marginalized


But remember these ashes will not fade

They are collecting on this very earth


And soon there will be enough

To extinguish their flame.

Disclaimer: The poem does not speak for the oppressed but expresses the perspective of an ally in solidarity with their struggles.

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  1. Nirmalya_iitkgp April 28, 2018

    It is the first time, I learned so much about life from the smoke of cigarettes.
    Wonderful moments of introspection and deep thinking, lost in aroma of tobacco.

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