Back Off Chennai, Let a Lady Smoke in Peace


Back Off Chennai, Let a Lady Smoke in Peace

Illustration: Shruti Yatam / Arré


n a humid, mosquito-ridden evening in Chennai, Meenakshi offers me a cigarette from a pack of blacks. I wrinkle my nose and call her an elitist. She laughs and calls my preference for lights absurd. We sit at a posh, overpriced café in Chennai, where we go not for the coffee or the food or the ambience. We come here solely to be able to smoke, free of the judgment and disapproving looks of Chennai peeps.

I met Meenakshi two months ago when she was fighting the rain from her soaked chair and needed another table to sit at. We’ve never known each other, but we struck a kinship exchanging stories of publicly smoking in a conservative city. She and I have squeezed ourselves into flimsy chairs and swallowed our indignation at having to pay ₹200 for a cup of coffee. ₹200 to enjoy a little guilty pleasure. ₹200, the price you pay to smoke a ₹16 cigarette.