[Prologue: I first wrote ‘The Smoking Ladies of Delhi’ in the year 2008, when I was in the ‘elite’ Project Management Team in-charge of developing and modernising New Delhi’s bursting-at-the seams Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport Terminal-2: well before the now spanking Terminal-3 fully grew-up; and while Domestic Terminal-1 was simultaneously getting an alphabetical make-over: Terminal IA, IB IC, ID, and the kind!
The recent Delhi air pollution stories brought back a pack-full of memories and rushed me to smoke out this article, light it up and post it here]
Ever since I started working at New Delhi’s IGI Airport Terminal-2, in December 2008, I had never seen so much smoke exhaust itself from a Lady. Literally. I am a strict non-smoker – not even the passive kind, and was dumbstruck on seeing so many women smoking. The fairer sex is indeed awfully liberated in New Delhi! When did you last see a Sheila Dixit (she was the then Chief Minister of New Delhi) or a Sonia Gandhi (she was actually running the Manmohan Singh Government from behind a smoke-screen, they said!) smoke? Ever?
There was this, cannot-miss-daily-sight of a large impressively clad Lady, cat-walking and sashaying back & forth, like a tigress caught in a circus cage, outside the Air-India ‘mishandled’ Baggage Office, cigarette in hand, as a ‘light-house’ would show: she looked stylish with a Stacy London dress sense, shoulder length cascading silky hair, probably handling all of Air-India’s ‘miss-delivered’ baggage with smoking ease. One of the key targets in renovating the Airport being to kick-out Airlines Offices occupying precious Passenger space, I ran into her many smoke rings while making mischievous plans to throw out her smoke & Baggage – to a new location outside the main Terminal. Never mind her smoking-hot killer looks!
Next to this ‘constantly hot’ Lady was the Jet Airways Crew & Ticketing office: two to tango? Pretty-Young Things with new golden overcoats, butterfly in and out. Often, I could see a beautiful Air-Hostess (must be), probably on a quick ‘smoking date’ with another male Crew Attendant (must be) outside their Office, Guess, there are no-smoking signs inside! The heavy make-up on an already naturally beautiful face, held sprightly on a svelte hourglass figure, did not match the ugly cigarette in her slender well-manicured fingers. May be, she should switch over to Virginia Slims! Gosh! I do know a few Cigarette brand names myself!
I run away from these smoke-generators only to crash into more smoke. This time, it was ‘from foreign terminal sources’ – an International Airline had just offloaded its crew and the short-skirted blonde beauties are waiting for the ground transport to take them to their Hotel. They were all hidden in tall self-made clouds of smoke-which beautifully dissolves into the troublesome IGI Airport November fog.
By this time I had become tired and headed home to Gurgaon, hounded by the smell of the seemingly omnipresent cigarette smoke. Thank Almighty God, my wife does not smoke!
I start the next day by driving down, early in the morning, to the Airport, from Gurgaon, on the newly laid flyover filled expressway. It’s a wonderful drive, except that there is this particular Maruthi Esteem, which competes for space in my lane, driven by a smart Lady (must be) with a Catherine Zeta-Jones black mane (that’s the best I could see from behind) and sculptured hands circumnavigating the steering wheel, but with a menacing cigarette in hand! Wow! Beauty just flew out of the window and rose up in the Sky!
Meanwhile, it was not uncommon, in Gurgaon, to see Ladies jostling for space with the Gentlemen, near the local road-side Tea-shop – off the great high-rise buildings – glass tea cup in one hand and the great cigarette in another – both spewing their kind of vapour or smoke, which quietly rises high, and effortlessly mingles with the already heavily polluted air!
In the small Towns and Villages, back home in the South of India, I’ve seen an occasional old woman smoke a ‘beedi’ holding it briefly between beetel-nut stained, almost falling teeth, but the North of India, was a revelation.
Am I becoming ‘lady cigarette smoke’ sensitive? Only time will tell. Let the smoke ring on! God bless the Smoking Ladies!
[Epilogue: We completed the renovation of Terminal-2 in a record 18 months and the Smoking Ladies were an inspiration in getting the air-balance calculations technically right (I’m an Engineer, remember) for the Smoking Rooms we had built inside the newly developed Terminal. There wasn’t a Smoking Room before and I’m sure ‘The Smoking Ladies of Delhi’ would appreciate the space!]
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