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The road ahead for ITC

IT WAS IN BOOKS and Hollywood movies that I first came across tobacconists’ shops, complete with different types of tobacco and pipes with exotic names based on the materials used (briar, meerschaum, cherry wood, calabash) and their shapes (sitter, billiard, MacArthur). In India, the tobacco business was much more informal. My family, too, was in the trade initially, importing ropes of tobacco from across the Palk Strait. I remember the two most popular types—chapanam and kaali, corrupted versions of Jaffna and Galle.


The trade became more professional with the entrance of ITC, which became the tobacconist to the nation. And, in time, as every forward-looking company must do, ITC diversified into everything from biscuits to beverages, pasta to paneer, and notebooks to namkeen.


This week’s cover story is about the road ahead for ITC, in the words of its chairman Sanjiv Puri. Chief Associate Editor and Director Riyad Mathew and Senior Special Correspondent Sunil Thomas interviewed Puri in Kolkata. The main story itself was written by Sunil. Did you know that the ITC atta sold in south India is different from the atta of the same brand sold in, say, Punjab? And then there is the delightful read on ITC ads over the years by Special Correspondent Anjuly Mathai.


Another big segment this week is about West Asia and what the developments mean for India. Former ambassadors Dayakara Ratakonda and Venu Rajamony have weighed in with their opinions on the issue. Additionally, Iranian Ambassador Iraj Elahi spoke to Senior Special Correspondent Sanjib Kr Baruah about what Tehran thinks of the Israel-Palestine conflict.


Another delightful read this week is about how Ookhu in Kashmir has earned the title of ‘pencil village of India’. The village in south Kashmir supplies the poplar wood for most pencils used by our children. Senior Special Correspondent Tariq Bhat writes that the wood which was used mostly to make apple boxes is now appearing in a new avatar, generating employment and revenue in the Union Territory.


As I write this letter, the big news is about Neuralink implanting its chip in a human being. To bring you more on the topic, Principal Correspondent Pooja Biraia Jaiswal interviewed Bengaluru-based researchers Prof Hardik Pandya of the department of electronic systems at IISc, and Dr Shabari Girishan K.V., consultant neurosurgeon and associate professor at M.S. Ramaiah Memorial Hospital. The future just went from wearable to implantable, did it?


All the chatter about tobacco took me down memory lane, about the time I used to puff away merrily. In the St Stephen’s College cafe, there was an old panditji who used to sell single cigarettes. All other shops sold only by the packet, which I could not afford with my pocket money. My post-lunch ritual was to walk up to him with the same line: “Panditji, ek Wills dena.” If the paanwala outside the India Coffee House near the university saw me go in for a meal, he would keep a meetha paan and a Scissors or Charminar ready for me to collect on my way back.


If I was too broke to go to panditji, I could always borrow a bidi from my history professor P.S. Dwivedi, a gem of a man from whose house I have had innumerable cups of tea.


The last cigarettes I smoked should have been India Kings. In 2000, I was in Boston for an IPI World Congress and was walking down a street when I had a moment of epiphany, stubbed out my cigarette, trashed the pack I had on me, and never went back.