I quit smoking because the paanwala stared at my wife….

Everyone makes New Year Resolutions; so did I. I would resolve to avoid foul language, skip red meat, attend religious events, observe Sabbath and abstain from smoking and alcohol. To comply, I would down the “last” drink while dragging the final puff of my “last” cigarette as soon as New Year was ushered. This resolution, made over days, would vanish within an hour. I would justify myself stating that come morning and I would enforce my resolution and continue my vices till daybreak.

My family would be overjoyed as they saw me steadfastly shun liquor and tobacco, in every form. The motive was however different: I would be racked by hangover after having spent a better part of the day in bed, inebriated. Cursing myself for setting such impossible goals while being tormented by severe withdrawals, restlessness, mental agitation and lack of appetite, I would maneuver for a few hours under watchful eyes and smirking faces of my family. I had nobody to blame but myself for the bravado that made me declare I would be a teetotaler from New Year.

With my brain and body crying aloud for nicotine, which tobacco so efficiently delivers, I would be drawn like a magnet to the nearest ‘paan walla’ ( shop that sells cigarettes and beedis), where all controls would be thrown to the wind. As though to compensate for my folly, I would light two cigarettes, one in each hand, and smoke them simultaneously to ensure that nicotine serum levels in my metabolism peaked instantly. Guilt would spring out like the proverbial Jack in the Box almost instantly, making me regret the broken resolution. I would smile away any questions over my smoking saying, I would try harder to soon quit the habit. The ‘soon’ always proved elusive. Neither did my drinking ebb, as I had promised myself and others. Nicotine exacted its revenge by prodding my brain into smoking more while alcohol creepily nudged me to consume larger volumes. Unwittingly, I was slipping into a gorge from where escape seemed almost impossible. Promises of quitting booze and smoke made at night were forgotten at the first rays of sunlight the next day. Alarmed yet sympathetic, my family would encourage me to watch videos and read literature on the evil effects of addiction, but met limited success in controlling my vices.

Utterly dismayed, my family threatened me with dire consequences. This meant separating from my loved ones, especially my daughter whom I dote. Hemmed and torn between going for what seemed an imminent disaster, I was forced to choose between what I viewed as an unnecessary de-addiction and rehabilitation program run by a great yogic priest Fr. Joe Pereira ,or live unloved for the remainder of my life. I opted for the former and grudgingly followed my family to the rehabilitation center, which was to be my home and workplace for the next few months.

For a person whose life was governed by self-will, settling into the rigid schedule of the rehab program was exacting. Yet, I managed to go around the daily chores and attended what at first seemed painfully boring lectures. Despite, I somehow managed to adapt myself to these conditions of enforced sobriety. But smoking was another thing. My sinews wailed for nicotine every minute. All forms of nicotine delivery mechanisms such as cigarettes, beedis, ghutka, chewing tobacco, were strictly forbidden as the rehab centre enforced a zero tolerance policy towards use of such products. My attempts to flee were scotched almost instantly.

Addicts, by some quirk of nature or genetics, are ingenuous: Shortly upon my arrival, I devised a novel scheme to procure the nicotine I yearned. I volunteered to sweep a section of the centre’s complex, where visitors discarded their cigarettes and beedis. It was an arduous task that others shunned. Neither was I keen to volunteer but the urge for nicotine overwhelmed all other thoughts. My motive was to gather discarded cigarette and beedi stubs and smoke them on the sly; something that imparted a perverse pleasure, despite rendering myself prone to deadly respiratory tract and mouth infections or other contagion.

I earnestly completed my rehab program to overcome alcoholism and earned a discharge. The nicotine habit however persisted. Till date(26 years) I have never consumed alcohol in any form. Smoking continued to hold me in its grip for some time. I resolved never to smoke at home, since it would harm our daughter and son, offend my spouse and elders. Yet, I would sneak to the neighborhood ‘paan walla’ and smoke heavily, incurring heavy expenses as I doled out free cigarettes to my acquaintances. My lust for cigarettes increased exponentially, till I ran into financial hardships for unrelated reasons. My once robust health dwindled. Soon, I was struggling at work, felt my stamina decrease and experienced bouts of severe depression.

Life turned for worse as one day, as I fell victim to a road rash traffic accident, when a vehicle owned by a call center almost ran over me. I was left in excruciating pain on the streets, with a broken arm and a damaged femur. Bed-ridden for over 14 months, this was the most distressing period of my life, as I grappled with various medical conditions, including Deep Vein Thrombosis, caused by lack of movement on the hospital bed and injuries sustained in the mishap, among others. Despite the heavy medication, I clung on to smoking almost fanatically, eluding any detection by doctors and nurses at the hospital and reprimands from my wife, when I returned home. All words by my loved ones against smoking fell on deaf ears.  I was quick to throw tantrums and quarrel if my wife denied me cigarettes upon demand. For a better part of the day, I would be glued to the TV and read newspapers.

My irrational behavior continued till one evening my wife drew my attention to an advertisement on the theme ‘ Save The Girl Child.’ She implored me to quit smoking, pointing that as the father, I would have to  perform the ritual of ‘Kanya Daan’, or handing over my daughter as a bride to her groom. My ego driven reaction was to quip that I would attend to the matter when time demanded. I would cite countless reasons to justify smoking, despite being fully dependent upon my wife, due to my physical condition. This included her buying me cigarettes during her evening walk, as I brooded over the ‘Save The Girl Child’ advert and its meaning in my life.

Till that decisive evening which saw a power failure causing my wife to return later than usual from her stroll.  I pondered over what the ‘paan walla’ must be contemplating about my wife buying cigarettes in a society where smoking is largely a male domain. I worried that people who witness her making this purchase may be gossiping about her being a drug addict, smoker or something unspeakable. The complexity of our simple yet intricate Indian culture struck me like a sledgehammer, firmly driving home the point that I was utterly wrong asking my wife to fetch my fags. A sense of guilt, shame and remorse, all combined, swept over me with the force of a Tsunami.

This was the transforming moment of my life, as my wife approached me with the pack of cigarettes. Tears in eyes, I clasped her hand, drew her closer, grabbed the packet and flung it with all disgust propelled strength that I could muster. With a quavering voice, I assured, I had quit smoking. Accustomed to such hitherto unfulfilled promises, my wife laughed aloud. Yet, this time, she saw, there was something different: a confidence on my face. Together, we both prayed for God to give me the strength and courage to achieve something that I had failed in earlier.

It has been over 11 years since that evening when I quit smoking. I do crave occasionally for a smoke. But the fright of being unable to bid adieu to my beloved daughter and son when they marry or the horrifying thought of my wife buying cigarettes again, overwhelms all such urges. I am comfortable reading the warning ‘Smoking Kills’ since I will not be a victim of that vice, away from that first puff today. The teachings of Fr. Joe my Guru who says

By B D

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