India’s Best (slow) Cigar Smoker

By Murali Menon

By smoking a cigar for 100 minutes, Pranav Raj Aggarwal became the first Indian to qualify for the Cigar Smoking World Championship being held this month in Split, Croatia

In late July, Pranav Raj Aggarwal, 29, was adjudged the country’s slow cigar smoking champion at the first ever Indian qualifier of the Cigar World Smoking Championship.

Before we go any further, there actually is a Cigar Smoking World Championship. The ten-year-old competition, devoted to the slow smoking of cigars, was founded by Croatian cigar enthusiast and businessman, Marko Bilic. Local competitions are now held in around 30 countries around the world to choose a national winner who travels every September to Bilic’s hometown of Split on Croatia’s Adriatic coast, to compete for the annual world title for smoking a cigar at the slowest possible speed.

The 2021 world champion was Henrik Krisstenson of Sweden, who took the title with a timing of 162 min, seven secs (two hours, 42 minutes, seven seconds). But his timing is way below that of the world record of 232 min, 55 sec (three hours, 52 minutes, 55 seconds) held by fellow Swede, Igor Kovacic. In fact, Krisstenson’s timing was only the 20th best in the overall world ranking of 20 best timings ever.

The tux-wearing men who will travel from around the world to Split in September for the world championship will be joined by quite a few stylishly dressed women smokers. The top 20 ranking slow smokers in the world include three women. The Polish champion, Agata Piotrowska, who in 2019 became the first woman to smoke a cigar for more than three hours, ranked at ninth position, Estonian champ Anastasiya Arsenova at no.11, and Elena Tronina, also from Poland, at no.16.

The Indian qualification round held in Delhi was organised by the India Cigar Club. The 10 participants, including an IAS officer from Chhatisgarh, are all members of the club, which was founded in 2012 by Raahuul Kapoor and his late mother, Shweta Kapoor. A cigar importer and retailer, Kapoor claims that the club has some 10,000 members across India, including 2,900 active ones, and counts CEOs and industrialists among them.

Cigars, according to Kapoor, are meant to be savoured. “It’s not a steam train that you keep puffing. Smoking a cigar with fellow enthusiasts, chatting with them, simply letting time pass is very relaxing,” he says. In a competitive environment, he adds, it is a test of patience and skill.

In Delhi, Aggarwal and his fellow competitors were allowed to light the official cigars — a Rocky Patel Maduro —only once, after which they had to smoke in silence. They were not allowed to exhale through the cigar or put wet hands on the cigar from their drink, both of which, says Kapoor, help it burn slower.

Penalties were applied when competitors ‘broke their ash’ before the stipulated 40 minutes, or burnt the competition ring (cigar band). Objects with a reflective surface such as cell phones, which could help competitors gauge how well their cigars are lit, were not allowed on tables at the venue. Aggarwal usually takes about 40 to 45 minutes to smoke a Maduro, but his winning time was 100 min (1 hour and 40 minutes). “I held the ash for around 38-odd minutes and was penalised, but in the end, I managed to, well, last longer,” he says.

A director at the Delhi-based International School of Design, Aggarwal was introduced to cigars about four years ago by friends. He smokes about 15 a month — “mostly Cubans, Dominicans, and Bolivars.” He had a smoke session before the event where he learned to pace himself better. “It was a new concept, so we — a bunch of friends and I — tried to smoke as slow as possible and hold the ash for longer,” he says.

On the big night, Aggarwal’s strategy was to “take it easy”. “I chose to enjoy the night. I chatted with fellow aficionados— there were about 30 altogether — I savoured my drink, and kind of forgot it was a competition, so maybe that took the pressure off me,” he says.

Aggarwal’s timing, however, does not provide much hope on being featured in the top ranks at the world championship, where the 20th ranking timing is 162 minutes. But it is a reason to cheer for Indian cigar enthusiasts.

Cigars, like cigarettes, are injurious to health. MW does not encourage or endorse smoking

Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com

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