Ode to the (dying) Marlboro man

The strike of a match and a flame lights up, illuminating his face for a second before it goes out. Only the dark glowing red tip of the cigarette remains, as he sits in the dark, brooding. Thinking thoughts. At some point you hear strains of music as he plucks at the guitar strings. A snatch of a song. An unbidden memory.

My earliest memories are of curling into my father’s chest as he smoked a last cigarette for the night. The smell of cigarettes hung thick in the air, mingling with Ma’s perfume and that is what home has always smelt like to me. For a non-smoker and a teetotaller I’m pretty tolerant of both, some might even say, encouraging. It’s what a man was meant to smell like. Brut or Old Spice and cigarettes.

It’s the image I guess. I dated smokers until I married the equally squeaky clean OA! There is a certain intensity to smokers. The carelessly dangling cigarette adds layers they may or may not possess. The focus as they lean forward to accept a light, the first deep drag, the smell of cigarette hanging around them (some might disagree, but it’s like cooking fish in the house – to some it’s disgusting, others will drool over it) and the wisps of smoke curling around them. To me, the Marlboro man was always ‘The Man’. But the alpha male is dying a slow death and well he must if he has to coexist with me.

And then, it’s 2011, who smokes anymore?! And so it is that the Bean chases Chhota Nana around the balcony where he slips out for a quiet smoke. “Why are you smoking? It’s bad for your health. Your lungs will turn to Β gold (she means coal – I taught her that).”

And I laugh as I watch him hastily stub out his cigarette rather than invite the ire of his 4 year old grand daughter. His wife of 20 years smiles at a 4 year old doing what she’s tried unsuccessfully for the last 2 decades.

I wonder what lies ahead. What my daughter and her generation will find interesting in a man. Will they be handsome, will they be rich, will they be non-smokers with smooth chests and armpits? Will I have to take the Brat and the Bean to wax their legs to the salon together? *puke*

Dear Abhay Deol,

I may not think you are the hottest, Β but thank you, thank you for not succumbing to pressure and shaving your chest. Thank you for doing this for my son and for the other young boys out there who might soon have had smoother legs than mine if not for your taking a stand.

Much respect,


Sigh. Excuse the babbling and rambling. This is the result of a 2 am scribble.


58 thoughts on “Ode to the (dying) Marlboro man

  1. Rather uncanny that you must write about this – was discussing (and bemoaning) with a friend yesterday, of how the few men I know who smoke, are well into their 30’s, if not older. The men of my age group don’t smoke at all, it seems. If anything, I know more women smokers my age, than men.
    That said, agree with the Brut+ cigarette smell. Dad quit smoking when I was around 10, but till then, that smell, mingled with the soft, late night sea- breeze, spelt home for me. I have a thing for how men hold their cigarettes – there is a certain style and its one of the hottest things about a man!
    And yes, I like hairy men. There, I said it. Not the obvious hairy ape variety, but definitely a man who who doesn’t take his grooming to crazy, ‘I need more time at the parlor every week than you do’ levels.
    Abhay Deol has a cute ass. Just saying. πŸ™‚

      • I find this curious too: I know more women who smoke than men. And that’s true for my age, and also of women in their forties. What do you make of it, MM?

        • I’ll probably get thrashed for this, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it anyway. I can speak for the women of my acquaintance – and it was all part of the emancipation thing. Smoking because it was manly and made them equal. Might not be true for all women smokers, but true for many that I knew. I dont think they realised it either – it was something I worked out.

          • My thoughts are similar, and at the risk of getting stoned, I think it’s stupid decadent feminism, one that affects your health adversely when all you set out to do was some shadow boxing against a hand-me-down patriarchy. It’s silly, in the end, isn’t it, just to do what t-h-e-y do? Smoking is bad, it’s injurious to health, as the line goes, and there’s no ism involved, thank you!

            • I don’t think anyone will disagree. Although many will argue that it isn’t true of their smoking habits. I can’t speak for others, just for those I know.

      • Agree with the emancipation thing and the decadent feminism comment. I say this as an erstwhile smoker – who sometimes relapses – and a feminist. Our feminism prof in college told us: why don’t you girls do better at math if you want to make a feminist statement instead of smoking? All of us – who conformed to the ‘girls are bad at math’ stereotype – looked sheepish.

        Even the Malboro man thing is just branding. They succesfully managed to tie masculinity with the idea of smoking. Now it’s being decoupled and that’s a good thing. My dad was a smoker too (I ironically guilt-tripped him into quitting) and I find the smell comforting too.

        • So more importantly, how good at math are you now? πŸ˜€ I still suck at it. But I blame that more on bad teachers than anything else because I am very quick at picking up concepts and I wish I’d just been taught better as a kid 😦

          • I still suck at it too. Allergic to it, in fact. But that prof’s statements laid bare our pretensions to power through smoking. I’m not sure who to blame for being bad at mad – on an aptitude test, I scored highly so apparently i should be good at it, but I hate it!

          • I still suck at it too. Allergic to it, in fact. But that prof’s statements laid bare our pretensions to power through smoking. I’m not sure who to blame for being bad at mad – on an aptitude test, I scored highly so apparently i should be good at it, but I hate it! Yeah and my math teachers were bad… but so were teachers in a lot of other subjects.

  2. yuck on a clean shaven chest *shudders at the thought of husband dear coming home like that*

    and funny how we make our children do the disciplining to the grandparents. My friend is using her daughter to stop her father and husband stop drinking. The other day we all were at a restaurant and this child’s (Gauri) father ordered beer. Here is how the conversation went
    Gauri : Pappa dont drink beer.
    Me: Ya, dont drink beer. Jane de apun usko ghar pe jake dho dalenge (sorry cant ignore the mumbai slang we all have)

    After sometime when she saw him taking a sip

    G: Pappa tereko ghar jake washing machine me wash karenge

  3. I like the image of Malboro Man…in my mills-and-boons romantic mind manly => oodles of attitude. But the smell and health hazard…err….no thank you. I will stick with my non-smoking husband who’s smoking hot otherwise.

    By the way, i liked your description of how your home smelled. My memories have the fragrance of sandalwood and starched cotton cloths.

  4. My dad smokes as well. Agree that I did not mind the smell at all. But now that I live with a non smoker and public smoking has been banned, I can’t stand the smell. Good thing that the Marlboro man is dying . πŸ™‚

  5. The other way round for me! All through childhood I connected smoking to chapris at bus stands and villians in movies! I have, in the last 7-8 years, discovered that a lot of people in my circle smoke. I kinda shudder thinking my kids’ generation will start smoking too early, and that it will be considered all right! Aapne meri aankhen khol di πŸ˜€

  6. MM, I think this is the 1st time have i ever read the smokers home scene and how they take their 1st puff and blah blah blah….

    • wha…? It’s not like I’m hungering for a hairy chest. I just can’t believe that the waxing obsession has infected men too. and here I was hoping we girls could quit it altogether! πŸ˜‰

      • Hairless armpits on men and women are not a bad thing. Having let my armpit hair grow, I found it very sweaty and I imagine many men find it the same.A hairless armpit can be painlessly achieved with a razor, though I personally find waxing my armpits, the hair takes longer to grow back. If people can opt for short hair – or no hair – on their heads then why not their armpits or anywhere else?

        I am not a fan of hairless men, by the way.

        • I find hairless bodies… weird. They’re not meant to be that way. And hair on a body has it’s uses and reasons. It’s bad enough that we succumb to the pressure to look a certain way. And for these men it’s not the heat, it’s the fact that they are on the cover of a magazine or stripping for a shoot. I would have thought that the fact that the whole country is looking at you would be reason enough to not go out of your way to look like a human aping a smooth egg.

  7. My husband shaved his legs to shave off precious seconds in a cycling event he was participating in. Can’t wait for the hair to grow back πŸ™‚
    And it has taken two kids to finally get him to stop smoking!

  8. Yeah, I dont know what it is either. My dad does not smoke or drink, and I have grown up believing its a total uncool thing to do, but weirdly enough, I have always fallen for the smoking, drinking, brooding, bad guys. You know, I think the bad guy syndrome is for women who will ultimately settle down for a calmer, quieter, gentler man…and I dont think such a soul will have high pain threshold, and hence will not go for waxing the chest πŸ˜‰ End of problems na?

    Ise kehte hai castle building in the wind πŸ˜€

  9. EWWWWW!!! Men who wax! EWWWWWWWWW!

    As for the cigarettes…used to like the smell when I had bfs who smoked, but its been so long and now I can’t stand it and am very sensitive to it. Always felt that its super injurious to health and an un-necessary health hazard that one brings upon oneself.

  10. a l’il hair in the chest is ok, but nt the “bear” fr me pls!!! and def want the nice manly moustache too! πŸ˜‰

  11. nopes mere liye khabar tau tab baneygi when a woman can declare I am not succumbing to the pressure of tweezing,threading,shaving…that is one thing I like about Europe, they are less cruel towards the hair follicle.

    • err.. I rarely tweeze, thread or shave. People in my social circle have learnt to put up with it and shut up. If they don’t like it, too bad, look in the other direction – no one asked you to look up my sleeve. Helps that I don’t usually wear short stuff.

  12. just the other day I read somewhere..yes in TOI only that today chidren are reforming their parents, they have become so health conscious.

    I am a traditional person, so like man to look like man, no modern metro sexual type.

  13. it was actually the opposite for me. my dad as far as i know doesn’t have any of the common vices – doesn’t smoke, drink or swear. we grew up thinking all these things are VERY BAD things to do. when i reached college i had a couple of bad experiences with drunk classmates so it further strengthened my attitude. but it did seem rather sexy and alluring. a guy with a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other – eyes half closed to prevent the smoke from going into them. my husband gets cranky without his weekly drink. he smokes maybe once in a while. i like a couple of drinks now and then – maybe once a year types. it’s strange how things have changed – atleast in the circles my parents or i move in. previously the drinkers were few and mostly frowned upon. now my dad is usually the only guy not drinking and most of the women drink too. the bad part is the pressure he has to face to take a drink. he gets really pissed off after most parties.

    • I get pissed off after most parties because of the pressure to drink. I don’t mind it in theory and have tried every type of drink there is to try. I’ve tried smoking, I’ve tried grass – you name it, I tried it and dropped it. It’s just not my scene. I don’t mind a sangria now and then but those are a nuisance to make and rare at parties so I’m for all practical purposes, a teetotaller.

      • I find the pressure to drink very childish too. And I do drink. Though of late, I’m comfortable with a couple of drinks and then I stop. So you’ll have the odd person saying – you don’t drink much, do you? I find it very amusing now… I think the whole need to prove yourself by drinking till you’re drunk is very teenage and I’ve been through that stage 10 years ago. I hardly feel the need to earn my drinking stripes now at 30. Actually, I think guys have it worse in this regard.

  14. and oh – i love mildly hairy chests (not the anil kapoor variety). i love burying my nose in my husband’s chest and feeling the hair tickle it. it smells so good. and doesn’t look like a plucked chicken. if my husband ever spends more time or money on his looks than i do i would disown him. i don’t want him looking prettier than me.

  15. This might sound strange, but this is not something I’ve seen in Calcutta. I grew up in that city and went to college there and almost ALL my friends (irrespective of gender) smoke. I’m the only odd one around. My university of five years would always have a slight smell of smoke in its air, which would particularly intensify if you stepped near one of the canteens. Almost all my juniors smoke too. But since I’ve moved to Delhi one year back, I’ve noticed the distinct absence of smokers all around me. Might this be (and I put this tentatively) a city specific thing?

    p.s. And I totally get the Old Spice + Smoke thing. My father used Old Spice while I was growing up, and the smell has always been comforting. Coincidentally, the guy I’m dating right now uses Old Spice too (unlike most people my age) and though this may sound weird, but I think that’s one of the things which attracted me initially. πŸ˜›

    • πŸ™‚ Why would it be weird? I think I wrote a post on how the guy I dated in college was so much like my dad, dark, musician, smoker, impulsive, fun, crazy. And how I eventually married a man like the grandfather who raised me – fair, tall, sporty, responsible job, soul of a saint…
      Isnt it almost a fact that we go for something that we loved in our dads?
      And yes I think its a city specific thing. I hate how we now pussyfoot around conversation. I’ve begun to do it myself because the trolls get on my nerves – find one little line and drive me insane debating it. But I too notice more gender equality in many things in Calcutta. In fact I’ve not seen many female smokers in Madras and Hyderabad and I offer that up as another city specific thing.

  16. Smoking was cool when we were young, because my brother used to smoke!
    Dad never did, though. The spouse used to, despite many prompts to quit, till he landed up in an ICCU many years ago and had to quit.
    I think of cigarettes and remember my college theatre director, the boys and some of the girls in our theatre group, some very ‘hep’ teachers in college- cigarettes were part of the scene. I’ve tried and not cared for them.
    My house used to smell of smoke, but has been a smoke -free zone for about thirteen years now. Early mornings were tough if there were no fags- no sutta, no potty. Such drama, so many memories. I used to like the smell, but I’m truly glad that very few people I know now actually smoke.
    Times have truly changed, and in this, for the better.
    Men waxing somehow seems Ewwwww to me!

  17. When I read the topic of your post, there was panic for a brief second. Marlboro Man is blogger Ree Drummond’s rancher husband at http://www.pioneerwoman.com. πŸ˜‰

    About the smoking: I’m sure you know this already. I’m a Nazi. It makes me very ill. Physically, I mean. If the trend is dying out, I, for one, will burst firecrackers and choke on those instead. πŸ˜›

    About manscaping: Been meaning to write about that for ages. You’ve seen my Dad, MM. That’s my ideal. What’s a man if not hirsute? πŸ˜‰ Yay for Abhay Deol and hair on men.

    • Oh I know her… And yes I know it makes you sick. It makes a lot of people sick and most of the smokers I know would never smoke around someone who is uncomfortable with it.

  18. dad used to smoke a lot too. in fact his friends were relegated to the airy verandah ’cause they would all happily smoke while my aunt (very traditional tambram) ground her teeth in the kitchen in the back… i like abhay deol, not necessarily the hairiness but i generally like him because he sounds and looks different..

  19. Men with shaven chest – Ewww!! Not that I like an ‘Anil Kapoor’ either!! Thats Ewww too!!

    But smoking – Im sooo glad that its banned – It totally makes me sick – headache and pukish and all… Never wanted a guy who smokes – always wondered how you can kiss a cigarette smelly mouth!

    • I feel the same way about onions and garlic! Can’t stand the smell of it. No raw onion in any food in our house and no eating pickled onions at restaurants for the OA unless he wants to sleep on the couch.

  20. In Europe, at least in the academic circles I was familiar with, the women on the faculty looked down on de-fuzzing and use of make-up..iI heard a woman professor once joking about shaven American legs..it was considered a kind of secretary level/American thing by them, I think..I did see a lot of teenagers though with plucked eyebrows and loads of make up..

      • I see no eyebrows here – they are strings that abruptly end their crawl! And all the tanning lotions and fake tan parlours make up for the lack of hair removing creams on supermarket shelves. It’s a different fetish everywhere, no? As for make-up, it’s rare to come across anyone who doesn’t wear eye make-up, academic circles or not. And make up sells much more in Europe than it does in India: it’s affordable and among the young students I interact with, it seems to be a necessity. I wore no make up at all when I was in university, and I don’t think any of my classmates thought I was a “weirdo”. But I heard that word coming for a rare girl in my class who apparently didn’t take enough care about her appearance as her classmates thought she should have!

  21. now finally i have answers on my doubt on waxing. I refused to wax or thread even on my wedding day. I too believe hair is meant for a reason and beauty is within. Thank u MM for bringing this up so boldly.

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