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Saturday, 9 August 2014

I Quit!

Though I have not recorded the exact date but I think it would be around this time of the year I should have been celebrating my twenty fifth anniversary. Whoa! HOLD! Stop those congratulatory messages that you are drafting in your minds even as you read this. Because it is not my marriage anniversary that is under discussion here as you wrongly assume but the silver jubilee year of my smoking! Looking back I marvel at the perseverance with which I cultivated a habit out of something which started off so innocuously with my attempt to ape a far more successful  Anand, Dev in this case, nonchalantly singing ‘har fikr ko dhuaen main udatha chala gaya’ in an effort to impress the girls in college. Somewhere between blowing rings of smoke a La Pran in many a movie and as recorded elsewhere in these pages, a mega  failure in my efforts to  copy the ‘flip-to-the-lip’ of Superstar Rajnikanth, I was hooked! The girls meanwhile fell head over heels for Anand, Dev again much to my disappointment, despite my experiments with ‘kingsize’ and quietly walked out of my life.


All my life since that momentous day, I decided that I will do my utmost to our Nations’s progress. And by jove haven’t I! From sales tax to excise duty to import duty to whatever cess, whichever surcharge, I have contributed to every one of these revenue streams, quite handsomely too, to make my country and its
economy stronger. To the extent that I and the others of my ilk are called the finance ministers’ best friends! I at times feel so proud that I might claim a halo of martyrdom as and when I kick the bucket due to cancer or otherwise. So huge I believe is mine and my fellow smokers’ contribution to the country’s exchequer!


The devout will tell you that the toughest part after deciding to undertake the Pilgrimage to Sabarimalai is not the actual trek up a torturous mountain but the penance of 41 days preceding the yatra! Like any other penance this too is designed to prepare the devotee and enhances their endurance and ability to withstand the arduous trek from Pampa River to the Sannidhanam. And like all penances, abstinence is one of its key elements. Abstinence from sexual relationships, abstinence from liquor, abstinence from Rajasik palette and most importantly for me abstinence from smoking!


As I moved along, the need to impress girls was soon replaced with a need to influence customers. That Purchase Manager who will sign the orders, the Chief Accountant who will sign the cheques, that Babu in the commercial taxes office  who will assess your books or the TTE who could allot an out of turn berth in a train. While the heads to impress and influence changed, so did the brand. The down market ‘filterless’ poison stick was upgraded to filter, double filter to kingsize filters. And much later ‘lights’, ‘milds’ and ‘ultra milds’ as I became ‘health conscious’!


For a veritable chain smoker, the sudden dip in nicotine content in my blood stream was like being hit by a sledgehammer to say the least. Every smoker on the road, every paan shop assumed demonic proportions out to wean me away from the chosen path of abstinence. On many an occasion the feet would develop a life of their own and walk you to every potti kadai on the route. On many an occasion the hand would automatically reach out to borrow a stick from a smoker colleague. And on most days the mornings were spent in the washroom awaiting the pressure to build up without the assistance of nicotine! What helped me see through this torture was the fear of God and the love of devil! Fear of God punishing you for breaking his codes while observing penance and the overwhelming love to see devil busted in his attempt to lure me away from the path of probity!

If it was not the need to impress or influence, then it was the need to keep boredom away. Those lonely nights, spent alone, away from home, on work are a killer. “No! Not sticks! Gimme the whole packet!” Or it was the pressure of targets, targets and more targets, month in month out, day in day out! “Where is the goddamn lighter?” The high of a promotion or a deal cracked, low of an order lost or unimpressive increments. Whatever the scenario, the Cigarette was smoking me!

While staying away from smoking was tough during the penance, the period post the penance is what the womenfolk will call labour pain! With the love or fear or both of God removed from the equation and with the Devil glowing in his full splendor, the risk of relapsing and lighting up was quite severe and well within the realms of possibility. Without the above mentioned anchor, I tried giving myself excuses not to resume smoking. I conjured up the gruesome images of cancer patients, the devil threw dashing ‘Marlboro’ man at me. I imagined my family and children beseeching me to prevent the relapse into smoking, the Devil waving the ‘Target vs Achievement’ spreadsheet at me. I visualized my friends laughing derisively at my going back to the obnoxious habit to strengthen my determination; the Devil flashed my impending loooooong travel schedule at me. At the time of going to the press the duel is on between what I often quote, the irresistible force pitted against the immovable object! A fight to finish! And I hope and pray that your blessings, wishes, prayers are with me to ensure, sooner rather than later, I too can proudly proclaim “I QUIT!”


PS: While I am at it, I have received a huge leg up from an unexpected source in my fight against lighting up! Arun Jaitley and his ‘world record’ increase in rate of excise duty on cigarettes in Budget 2014!!! Bravo!

Thank you @ashwin_nat for all the help and moral support!

har fikr ko dhuaen main udatha chala gaya’ : Classic Hindi film song. Lines mean “I blew all my worries in a puff of smoke” featured on Dev Anand.
Sannidhanam:  Sanctum Sanctorum
Rajasik: Rich Palatte which induces physical urges!
Babu : Clerk
Paan : Betel Leaf
Potti Kadai: Roadside kiosk selling tobacco products and other knick-knacks!