close up photo of cigarette
Journeys,  Reflections

Ash and an empty cup

It felt good to step out of the car. We had been driving for about two straight hours. Slightly limping and stretching to set ourselves straight, we made our way to one of the numerous Lyangcha stores sprouted along the highway. These delicacies had made Saktigarh a popular pitstop on the way to Shantiniketan.

We snacked, and tried all four variants the store had. Each was made of a different combination of ingredients. Votes were cast, and a boxful of the winning candidate was packed for our gracious hosts. Unwound, and full to the brim, we leisurely walked out of the open seating area. An elderly lady with gentle eyes stood before us with her hand was stretched out for alms.

Ma shook her purse and followed the jingle to pluck out some loose change, as she always did as far as I can remember. The old lady cringed slightly at my mother’s gesture. While it was a sincere expression of my mother’s compassion, inflation of the last few decades was lost on her. My uncle, who was quietly observing scene, trumped me and handed a 10 rupee note the old lady. She left us in silence with a short prayer under her breath.

The whole affair took only a few seconds and we were on our way back to the car in cheerful strides. I handed over my cup of hot milk tea in the traditional clay up to Mami, bought a stick of Gold Flake Lights and lit it in thick puff of smoke. I had not smoked a cigarette for over two months. The trip was a license to indulge, and I was not about to hold myself back. Slightly lightheaded from the nicotine rush, I was ready to drive the next 100 kilometers.

I turned around to toss the cigarette butt to the edge of the street. And that is when my eyes met with the old lady who was returning from her round. In the few minutes that had passed between our last interaction, the 18 rupee cigarette was but ash, and the 10 rupee tea was churning strangely in my over-full belly. I silently observed the irony of it all. I had squandered away 28 rupees on insignificant and unhealthy indulgences, while the same could have meant a side dish of a meal. And yet I had had not deemed it necessary to add another 10 to my uncle’s offering. In the moments that followed, I found myself trying to stay afloat in the sea of shame, guilt and pain.

For the next hour of my drive, I kept wondering… if life is all about little choices we make, then it is time that I start making more conscious ones.