Cigars and Cheroots

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Inside of a cheroot
Everyone knows the Myanmar-cigar, as the trusty dictionary says, is a tight roll of tobacco with pointed ends for smoking. But what do we call the other kind, the Say-baw-leik, or mild tobacco cigar, as the word implies? We call it cheroot, but it does not tally with the description given in the dictionary; ''cigar with both ends open". It was only one end for lighting and the other end has a filter, a small roll of dry corn-husks.

For lack of a better word - if there is, it has not yet come to my notice - let me call it cheroot anyway. It is not a tight roll of tobacco leaves. It is a roll all right; the outside is dried leaf of carbia myxa (tha-nat-phet). The insides are amysterious mixture of bits of dried wood and crushed tobacco.
Cheroots come in all sizes, the smallest ones are only slightly bigger than cigarettes: the big ones are about six to eight inches long with a half-inch girth. The strength varies depending on the portion of tobacco put inside.
Cheroot-rolling ladies
Ladies of my grandmother's days rolled their own cheroots to suit their individual taste. Ingredients for cheroot rolling, namely, tha-nat leaves, dried and flattened, bits of dried soft wood seasoned with tamarind pulp, crushed tobacco leaves, dry com-husks cut to make filters, a skein of silk or cotton thread, a left-over from the family loom - all these were put in the red lacquer basket fitted with trays and compartments.
This tobacco basket, like the betel box, played an important part in the family. A gift of cheroot rolled by the lady's fair hands meant to the courting swain that he had a good chance to win her.
Cheroots in love songs
There is a love song, well known even to this day, that tells of the gift of the cheroot from a maid to her lover, who had gone to the golden city of lnwa. The girl said she did not buy the tha-nat leaf from the markets, but plucked it green and fresh from the tree: she put the leaf under her bed, partly because she could not face others asking" for whom" and partly because she would rather let it dry by the warmth of her young body than by the heat of the sun or fire; since she could not afford a piece of silk thread she tied the end with a white cotton thread. A humble gift but rich in love and tenderness.
Cheroots are as varied in size as in quality. The poor of the villages use dry com-husks, the same material as the filter, in place of tha-nat leaves. The mixture put inside is basically the same.
Decorated cheroots
Kun-thi-phet-say-leiks, those big, long stately white cheroots, rolled with paper-thin sheet from the frond of betel nut palm, are the aristocrat of the species. They are used as take-away gifts for guests at weddings and novitiation ceremonies. They are decorated with bands of red foils at the filter end and put in ornate silver bowls. A bevy of girls welcome the guests, offering each a cheroot.
Perhaps, one does not see white cheroots too often here in Yangon even on gala occasions, but in places like Mandalay and towns in upcountry they are parts of the trimmings of a celebration.
Recently I have developed an interest in cheroots, because I have taken up smoking, something I missed in my mis-spent youth. It is never too late. I am also inspired by the example set by a lady, a distinguished Gallic beauty, who is partial to Myanmar cheroots, which she smokes fitted to her long ivory holder - a picture of chic or glamour. So far, any chic or glamour I may have achieved seeps out of the little holes I make on my jackets and longyis(skirts).





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