Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the Unite...
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Part of the Rehman Rashid series of reviews

I WAS about a third through a Partagas 898 when my brother had to go to the bathroom to throw up. He had to go twice more before I was done with the lonsdale. (Like hell I’d extinguish it; I’m the elder. Besides, it was his fault for not having sufficient ventilation in his kitchen.)

My brother thinks cigars are evil. I was prepared to concede with regard to the particular smoke that made him vomit. It was the second-last of a box bought duty-free in Langkawi, and probably the second-last of its kind I will ever smoke. Oh, it’s a Partagas all right — its flavours would not disappoint any fan of the brand. But these were rolled tight as drumsticks and drew firm and hard; no “give” at all to them, even after three years’ storage.

So they took an inordinately long time to finish, which the rich brawn of Partagas forbade me hastening. This was wretched for my brother, who will forever hold that cigars are evil and enjoyed only by the wicked. The quintessential cigar smoker was Al Capone.

Sigmund Freud was a closet sex fiend. Winston Churchill was a manic-depressive whose seven-stick-a-day habit Freud would have interpreted very differently had Churchill not won World War Two and had a vitola of Romeo y Julieta named after him.

Rudyard Kipling was a misogynistic white supremacist. Fidel Castro‘s a commie and Groucho was obviously Marxist. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are punchlines. And so on.

Oh I say, I said, steady on old boy. But he was too nauseous to consider how sublime, subtle and nuanced, how transcendent and ethereal, the experience of a good cigar could be. A cigar soothes and calms. Its voluptuary flavours evoke the emotions of great cuisine or fine wine; it is a gustatory, gastronomic experience, and assuredly non-fattening.

Cigars are appreciated by refined, sensitive, sophisticated and educated souls as well as Donald Trump. They calm the fevered brow and ease the troubled heart. It was long the height of humanity to offer the condemned man a last cigar. (I know which one I’d ask for: the Puros Indios Chief 18×66, a six-hour smoke, escape when the firing squad falls asleep.)

Kretek smokers probably wouldn’t understand (though one would think they’d be receptive).

The truth is, from a moral standpoint, cigars have to be considered neutral. I’d be the first to admit that self-professed “Brothers of the Leaf” include a disproportionate mob of red-necked hog-fed gun-totin’ Ayrab-huntin’ joes — if only they might train their Ma-Deuces on the fat-cat poseurs oozing in the armchairs of city-centre cigar divans conspicuously abusing Cohibas.

But all that’s a world away from my balcony on a late evening, with the sun setting, the light fading, a light breeze blowing, and a cigar gently smouldering in hand. There’s nowhere better to be when your back’s against the wall. A good day is celebrated; a hard one softened.

Which means there must be cigars in both heaven and hell, so there’s no point pondering the morality of it all. This should console even those bound for the latter, where at least they won’t be stuck for a light.