Pink walls are a hallmark of the smoking zone in a pub called MB's in Delhi's Defence Colony market. The zone is nothing fancier than a staircase. As in Bombay, there isn't space for a full-fledged, spacious black room with powerful exhausts like at Hard Rock Café. This is MB's. It's shady. And the pink walls are what pockets of smokers — presumably underpaid boys and girls — stand against when the steps are occupied with even more smokers. Metal ashtrays are placed on a few of the steps. The smoke generated is enough to wipe out all the dengue macchars in the city.
There is an unspoken code between those sitting on the steps and leaning against the wall in MB's. Despite conversations that are overheard and smirked at — "I will only marry a man with a CTC of not less than 20 lakhs, and he must be a Gemini" — there is such a thing as a smoker's bond, an occasional tendency towards small talk, and almost always, a willingness to lean forward and share a light.
While balconies and staircases are still the fallback option, in the past six-eight months, the capital has seen the addition of smoking rooms. Pubs, restaurants, lounges and bars with space have fabricated a unit dedicated to smokers.
The Imperial Hotel has a glass-window, air-conditioned, wooden-floored outhouse amid those tall palms called The Smokehouse. Strangers with dreadlocks catching flights to Nairobi in 20 hours but lighting up right now might ask what's good to see in Delhi. Before you play local tourist guide, they'll add, "No Qutab Minar, no Red fort". You say to them then, "Nehru Place is a must see", return the light, and wish them a good life.
Hard Rock Café has a big room for smokers. Also air-conditioned, there are seats, posters, music and the general air of a smoker's feedback having gone into the design. It's impressive, save for the true Delhi trait: despite the well-placed ashtrays, there are brown-yellow butts tossed out of the window, lying on the ledge.
There is nothing new about bonding over smoke breaks in offices. And every now and then, bumming smokes off strangers in spaces alien to both leads where you want it to. Conversations struck up on staircases with exhaust fans, outside offices in spaces where they let you smoke, or on the terraces of lounge bars have a sacred, if marginalised, quality to them. To the managements kicking out smokers, don't. It's where your business comes from.