It was just another normal day for Smit Agasti, a Class IX student of Abhinav Bharti High School as he boarded a bus from Central Avenue to attend his computer classes on Camac Street.
He spotted a gentleman in mid 30s dressed in a formal shirt and trouser, smoking inside the bus. Smit told himself that he could not just sit there and keep watching the other person smoke.
“I told him that he should not be smoking in the bus” said Smit.“But he behaved that he had not heard me.”
Smit told him again and this time the man reacted.
“The gentleman started using the choicest slangs and started abusing me. He even said, ‘Tor baaper paisaye cigarette khacchi?’ (Am I smoking with your father’s money?),” said Smit.
“I was a bit unnerved by his viciousness but managed to keep my cool. The conductor and a few other passengers supported me but most of the passengers didn’t seem to care.”
Smit continued to persuade the gentleman not to smoke till it came to a point when he started openly threatening him. “He said he would take me to the police if I didn’t stop. But actually I should have told him that because what he was doing was illegal. Smoking in public places is banned in India.”
(Smoking in public places in India was prohibited nationwide from October 2, 2008 under the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules, 2008 and COTPA. The nationwide smoke-free law pertains only to public places. Places where smoking is restricted include auditoriums, cinemas, hospitals, public transport (aircraft, buses, trains, metros, monorails, taxis and their related facilities (airports, bus stands/stations, railway stations), restaurants, hotels, bars, pubs, amusement centres, offices (government and private), libraries, courts, post offices, markets, shopping malls, canteens, refreshment rooms, banquet halls, discothèques, coffee houses, educational institutions and parks.)
It was clear that Smit’s words were having no impact on the man and many of the passengers, instead of supporting him, looked at him like he was wasting his time. “The man kept threatening me. He was so angry I thought he would beat me up. I was scared inside but put up a brave front. My stop came and I got off.”
After this experience, I asked Smit if he would again raise his voice if he saw someone smoking in a public place? “I would. One bad experience can’t stop me,” said the 14-year-old.
Smit has been inspired by actor Bobby Chakraborty’s anti-addiction campaign I Am The King Of My Mind and has been in regular touch with the actor since he visited his school in January this year. “As Bobbyda is inspiring thousands of school children, if I can inspire 10 people I will feel good about it.”
Although the youngster has not fared too well while convincing adults – “they always say things like if I don’t smoke I can’t go to the bathroom or my stress would not be under control” – but when it comes to his peers his success rate has been higher. “I had a friend who used to smoke. I calculated and showed him that he would be able to save so much more money and have more fun if he quit smoking. He listened to me and now we hang out together at the movies and the mall.”
Smit’s mother supports her son whole-heartedly. “My mother encourages me to save my pocket money and buy chocolates and goodies for the slum children or the inmates of an old age home.”
“On a trip to Siliguri I saw this man shivering in the cold without any warm clothes at Sealdah station. When I expressed my desire to help him out, my grandfather took out his own sweater from the suitcase and asked me to hand it over to him, which I did. My family is always with me in my endeavours,” said Smit.
Smit is not alone for there are many teenagers like him who are silently doing small things and making a big difference. They only need more support from us adults.