An inconspicuous little shop in Fort vies for anonymity, but is a tobacconist’s treasure trove, finds Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
Tucked away unobtrusively amid many other shops along the Fountain area, in Fort, reads a pale sign: One Man Show — Empire Tobacco Company. The ‘one man’ has now become family business. But the members fight shy of recognition: “It’s not right to seek fame.” When they do, they don’t divulge their name for publication: “It’s not right to publicly boast about what you’re doing.” No pictures either: “It’s not right — it’s against our religion.” Yet they possess among their wares some of the best pipes, hookahs, cigars, cigarette paper and tobacco from across the world.
The Empire Tobacco Company plays the Mumbai tobacco connoisseur’s magic genie in a non-descript bottle.
“Cigarette papers? Rizla, Smoking and Zig Zag — there’s thick paper, hemp paper and rice paper — depending on how fast you want it to
burn,” outlines our unnamed host. “People who come here know what they want.” However, if you have a request, all you have to do is ask, and it will be acquired for you. The cigarette tobacco favourites are Samson, Drum and Golden Virginia. But who rolls their cigarette in this day and age? “You’ll be surprised. Most of my clients are youngsters,” he mutters. One visitor to the shop started rolling his smokes on an Antwerp trip, where he learnt that if he couldn’t choose his own tobacco and paper, he wasn’t a ‘man of taste’!
“The only way to break a bad habit was to replace it with a better one,” said actor Jack Nicholson about switching from cigarettes to cigars. Resting in Empire’s wood and glass cabinets are some of the world’s finest and most exclusive varieties. “Monte Cristo and Romeo And Julietta among the Cubans,” he begins rattling the choicest names. The Cubans, although the owner refuses to name the price, go over many hundreds of dollars for a box.
“We also stock Villigers, a Swiss brand, Dominican Davidoffs and Henry Winterman Café Cremes from Holland,” he continues. And then of course are the Indian varieties, with western names —”Churchill Special, La Corona, London Calling, Black Tiger — most of these are manufactured in South India,” he adds. Predictably, however, most of his customers go for the foreign cigars. Who might these wealthy buyers be? “Party goers and the corporate crowd. Every person has a specific cigar they get attached to.”
And then there is the other collection —pipes. “All these pipes are made of Briarwood,” the un-named wonder emphasises. Naturally, since many of them come from brands like Savinelli and Plum. Savinelli, which makes pipes from optimum grades of Sardinian and Corsican Briar, has been in business since the early 1800s. Its USP is simple: “To own a Savinelli pipe is to possess a treasure.” Delicious pipe tobacco choices include Captain Black, Amphora and Borkumriff. “Pipes are a totally different smoking experience,” he underlines. So does Albert Einstein incidentally: “I believe pipe smoking contributes to a calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.”
But the voyage into this tobacconist’s heart doesn’t end here. Cigar cutters, cigarette rollers, cigarette holders and filters, pipe scrappers, tobacco pouches, lighters and pipe lighters (bent, to suit the lighting style). Add to that a catalogue of nearly every possible kind of Zippo lighter, ordered on demand. And then there are 16, 24 and 30 inch hookahs made from steel, wood or glass —both imported and Indian. “Earlier, we had a catalogue for a lot of these things, now we have 90 per cent of what was in the catalogue!”
And how did they choose such exclusivity? “Through the customer. We have the most discerning customers — they’ve played our guides.” And constant guides they must be for: “To cease smoking is the easiest thing. I ought to know. I’ve done it a thousand times.” Courtesy, Mark Twain…
This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/gqij