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Tobacco? I smell a rat

N. Ramakrishnan
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A pack a day keeps the rat away. — V. Raju
A pack a day keeps the rat away. — V. Raju

This is a confession. I have not smoked a cigarette all my life, although I must admit that I am often a forced passive smoker. I have never consumed tobacco in any form. Till now, that is. In the last five months, all that has changed. I am now a major consumer of tobacco. Not processed. I prefer it raw.

And, I have also started reading every bit of news about tobacco prices. When a colleague, during the course of discussing news stories for the day, mentioned casually that there will be a small report about tobacco prices going up, I was tempted to ask him to make it a detailed one. After all, I was personally interested.

Growing demand

I used to buy a 50-g pack of tobacco, raw and in long form, packaged neatly in newspaper and tied tightly using a light jute string, for Rs 10. This was in July when I first started consuming raw tobacco.

Last week, when I went to the same shop to get my quota of tobacco, Mohammed, the shop keeper, told me he had only a few packets — four to be precise — but that he would get me more the next day. A packet now costs Rs 12, a 20 per cent increase from the time I last bought it.

I was tempted to ask Mohammed, whose hole-in-the-wall shop sells a whole lot of things, including betel leaves and camphor, to give me a discount since I was a major, regular buyer.

But I held back. I just remarked to him that the price had increased since the last time I bought it. Yes, demand has gone up, he said. A whole lot of automobile mechanics buy it in bulk, too, he added quite helpfully. People living in apartment complexes buy tobacco from him.

Rat, the leveller

Now, if you are wondering why on earth I would consume such large quantities of tobacco, it is to keep the rats away from my car. Once bitten, twice shy is the old adage. I have had these rodents chewing the petrol hose in my hatchback more than once.

Each time the tow vehicle came to cart my car to the workshop, the driver has helpfully advised me that I tie tobacco under the hood of the car and on the chassis. This, it seems, keeps the rats away.

Change the tobacco at least once a week, the packets lose their pungent smell and become ineffective, they have advised. For good measure, the last time I had this problem, the tow vehicle driver told me that he has had calls from Mercedes Benz owners too for a similar problem.

That was indeed comforting. The rats don’t differentiate between a lowly hatchback, however premium its manufacturer says it is, and a luxury sedan. And, keep changing the place where you park your car, they have advised.

Here’s a thought for vehicle manufacturers: The next level of innovation for them would be to get the chemical substance from tobacco that so repulses the rodents and coat it on the hoses and wiring harnesses in cars, as a permanent solution. I am sure hundreds of car owners who have suffered will be ever grateful to the manufacturers if they were to do this.

Are any of them listening?

(This article was published on November 18, 2012)
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