Man-made agent of natural selection, rapidly eliminating insecure, rebellious, rakish, stupid or otherwise dysfunctional people from the gene pool.
Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss is launching an anti-smoking advocacy campaign against Shah Rukh Khan, no doubt replete with pictures of capsized lungs and cancer-ravaged cheeks that he plans to stick on tobacco products in December. A picture of a shrivelled brain would be more appropriate, since Khan was caught smoking on a campus — a no-smoke zone — in Punjab, the one state in India where a smoker sticks out like a Klingon at a beauty contest. If Dr Ramadoss also has Khan’s head examined, perhaps he’ll discover the suicide centre, which has eluded scientists for centuries.
Earlier, Ramadoss had targeted Khan for smoking on screen because it sets a bad example. A doomed project because by the same logic, no act actionable in court, from mass murder to cheating on your spouse, ought to be depicted either. Indian film censors have made some vicious cuts and slashes in their time, but even they must blanch at the idea of thought control on this scale.
The Health Minister backs the right movements, but he harbours this fascist streak which turns them into the most frightful pogroms. His move to make all buildings nationwide smoke-free on Gandhi Jayanti, and to fine smokers heavily, is of a piece with that. In India, a law like this serves no social purpose except to fatten the haftas of the police. Besides, it would support the sort of anti-smoking fundamentalism that has turned the US into a nation of neurasthenic
hypochondriacs who start hacking and coughing if someone lights up at a hundred paces.
Advocacy works far better and is more civil than punitive measures. The most potent anti-smoking measure in Delhi is a billboard at the Tees Hazari Court, right by the gate through which the ungodly are hauled off to the lockup. It loudly declares that smoking makes you impotent. It gives hardened criminals castration anxiety. A fine couldn’t be half as painful.
Shah Rukh Khan, role model for half the nation’s youth, is a fit target for advocacy. But the original smoking gun of Indian cinema is Rajnikanth, the most enduring star from Ramadoss’s part of the country. In his prime, he was famed for flipping a lit cigarette into his mouth, triumphantly making it loop the loop to impress the ladies.
Shortly thereafter, in scenes strategically set in the morning hours, the said ladies were depicted throwing up at the base of a coconut palm, visibly debunking the smoking-impotency link. Rajnikanth is Ramadoss’s legitimate prey. A sitting duck. Just sitting there, waiting to have pictures of diseased lungs mailed to him.
(Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine)