A group of investment bankers, company directors and professionals mingled at a south Mumbai bar. Most were men, a few were women, and all were puffing on brown hand-rolled Cuban and Dominican Republic cigars.
It was the Thursday night meeting of the Mumbai cigar club — 10 months old but still largely underground.
Briton Daniel Carroll (38), India representative of consultancy firm Mandala Asset Solutions, started the club with three friends.
The original aim, he said, was for the four to meet, smoke cigars, talk and drink. But word spread, gathered steam and now 120 cigar enthusiasts turn up after getting monthly e-mail invites.
It is the only cigar club in the city. Similar clubs exist in Delhi and Bangalore.
“I guess there is nothing else like it in Mumbai. It’s a chance for people to meet like-minded people,” Carroll said. “Cigars are a great bedfellow to drinking. They are also like single malts —an elitist activity.”
“It’s really pleasant smoking cigars with men. You get a bonding feeling,” said Sanjay Sachdev (46), country manager, Shinsei Investments, puffing away on a Cohiba. “Many of us here have lived overseas so I guess we see ourselves as global citizens.”
Cutting his Montecristo, PR professional Briton James Sandberg (27), said, “It’s nice to meet new people in a civilised environment.”
The British brought the culture of cigar smoking to India in the 17th century.
The fad died out in the late 20th century after excise duties were slammed on cigars, but started to see a revival after 1999 when restrictions were lifted on imported ones.
“We are keen to get involved with the cigar club and encourage them to do more. These are passionate people and we want to keep the passion alive to help increase cigar culture,” said Manish Datt, owner of the Cigar Shop (formerly Kastro’s) in Delhi.
He will open Mumbai’s second specialist cigar shop in the Fountain area in two months, in collaboration with the KK Modi group. The shop will sell 60 brands from across the world priced from Rs 200 to Rs 3,000.
Chetan Seth, president of the city’s only specialist cigar shop, Cingari, at the Lalit Hotel, said he was keen on supporting the cigar club.
“You don’t just end a good meal with a cognac anymore, you end it with a cigar,” he said. “There are many women in Delhi smoking cigars now. They are not models and bimbos but women of substance.”