Manish Datt tells me to roll the cigar between my fingers. It evens out the flavours and saves dilettantes the ignominy of having their cigar go out. I’m not supposed to ash it; instead, I’m supposed to study the construction of the long and sturdy cigar ash.
At The Cigar Store in Delhi, Datt’s 10-year-old haven for cigar aficionados, everything is a ritual. And this hedonism has a small but dedicated bunch of followers in the city. In the past, Datt has organized cigar and single malt evenings for his patrons; he runs a cigar-on-wheels service and he even started something of a trend by hosting cigar counters at A-list weddings, including that of actor Elizabeth Hurley’s. Datt’s latest extension of the cigar culture—he feels he is its guardian angel—is through art.
Last week he hosted an exhibition of “cigar art” at a farmhouse in Gurgaon. The exhibition was the culmination of a week-long art camp held in conjunction with the Delhi-based Enigma Art Gallery. Fourteen emerging artists created canvases of cigar-inspired art, priced between Rs30,000 and Rs95,000. This was the first showing of Datt’s Cigar Art Company. In April, he plans to host an art camp with senior artists in Cuba and other parts of Latin America where cigars are rolled.
At The Cigar Store, a heady fragrance of matured tobacco leaves, somewhat musty, somewhat woody, hits you even before you light your first cigar. The glass-walled humidor showcases Cohibas, Trinidads, Montecristos and Romeo y Julietas priced at Rs200-2,000 each. Datt also has 15 private cigar lockers for patrons who wish nothing less than professional care for their prized possessions.
We’re smoking Trinidads, an ultra-exclusive brand that only the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro was authorized to hand out as diplomatic gifts. Datt recreates this intended exclusivity in the store. Elaborate cigar paraphernalia surrounds us: cigar cutters, long elegant matches, leather pouches and cases.
Rolled up: Datt (foreground) with artists at the cigar art camp in Gurgaon last week. Priyanka Parashar / Mint
“Aficionados in India are building cigar lounges and bars in their homes now. They stock the choicest of cigars sourced from all over the world,” says Datt. However, he confesses that the ban on smoking in public places has taken a toll on the cigar market, which was growing at a phenomenal pace of 40% annually. His venture into the art world is an extension of “brand cigar”, which can be read as something of a subliminal marketing tool geared for the sophisticate. He hopes the Cigar Art Company will draw more people to the world of cigars. “Wine, whisky, cigar, art...they’re all different facets of the good life,” he says.
The rituals are endless. But an important one to remember is to twirl the cigar smoke in your mouth much like whisky, and never to inhale. Those cigar headaches that give the rolls a bad name are caused by the alkalinity of the washed-out tobacco that cigars typically use.
When I’m done with the Trinidad, Datt asks me to lay it to rest so that it smoulders and dies on its own accord. Stubbing out a cigar, you see, is blasphemy.
You can enjoy the olfactory sensation of Cuban tobacco leaves at 15, Santushti, Race Course Road, New Delhi. For details, log on to www.thecigarshop.in
Photographs by Priyanka Parashar / Mint