(Continued from part 1)
After I lost an academic year, all hell broke loose. But my best friend and I (we had stepped out for our quick smoke right before a crucial exam, which caused us to fail) were completely unfazed by the fact that we had to repeat a year. We had turned a five year graduation course—already too long—into six. We couldn’t be bothered by an institution, as terrible as ours, deeming us unfit to proceed to the succeeding year, only because we didn’t know a certain poem in Hindi, of all things. For one, we were trying to be sculptors, not Hindi poets.
How broken and irrelevant can an education system be?
That said, it was fitting that students like myself were a part of it; neither did I have the acumen to follow the system and get it out of the way so I could carve my own path nor did I have the courage to ditch it altogether and chase my dreams. I didn’t know what I wanted, in the first place. I was constantly in a flux between ‘following’ and ‘rebelling’. Luckily, I enjoyed myself throughout, thoroughly. So, I am no victim.
The people who were really smart, moved on from such broken systems. Likewise, people who were really smart, never smoked.
People living with my grandma were of the opinion that I was getting wayward and had to be ‘tamed’. In hindsight, I was merely coming into my own as an adult and I latched on to cigarettes like a lifebuoy thrown to a person drowning. Eventually, my parents had to move cities for a few years— relocate lock, stock and barrel—to provide a home for me, to let me flourish and to fix the mess I had gotten myself into. A mess that started with me smoking.
Even this, didn’t make me give up the habit.
When my dad discovered that I continued to smoke, he gave me an ultimatum— “I can’t stop you from smoking. You are an adult. But if you want to continue, I am not sticking around to witness you ruin your health.” Uh oh. This was new. So I did stop for a while, a year almost… only to start again.
Eventually, life moved on. My smoking became a non-issue. My parents gave up on my smoking. Others found something else to criticise. And I continued to smoke.
I smoked at least ten cigarettes a day for nearly twelve years.
But throughout, I complained about the habit. I kept expressing the desire to quit. Every new years, I would decide to stop and get back within a week. It was such a cliche.
One day I met someone very special. She didn’t smoke. She didn’t like smoking. She never fussed about my smoking to me. She quietly excused herself every time the smoke got too much for her. You do crazy things when you are in love, I thought of seriously quitting smoking… even if for the nth time.
On a cold December night in 2017, when the weather was perfect for smoking, I sat at a table with the same old friends to bitch about the same old people, for three nights in a row, with alcohol and cigarettes for company. On the third day, as I sat there, zoned out between conversations, I took a hard look at myself.
I asked myself what I was achieving doing what I was doing. Getting restless evening after evening, calling people up, sitting across them and dousing my creative passions with alcohol, cigarettes and utterly worthless gossip. My dreams that were once raging fires, I had now reduced them to mere smouldering embers because I didn’t have the courage or the discipline to make a film or make music or start a business or whatever. I was soon to be 31. I questioned myself if I was serious about my health or just fooling myself. Even though ‘doing things’ and smoking are not necessarily related, they kind of are. My actions and life goals were not aligned. I had to start by purging the worst.
And I was really, really done smoking.
But I didn’t fully trust myself. And every time I tried to quit, I would reach for a ciggie the moment I took a sip of beer. So I decided to go off cigarettes and alcohol for hundred days. A start. It is one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life, if not the toughest. I completed the challenge and celebrated with a beer on the last day… and I didn't let myself reach for a cigarette.
I’ve learnt a valuable life-lesson from my own smoking habit: The faster we break our illusion that we can/should/must help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, the better it is. If a loved one decides to f%ck themselves over, I can only tell them I love them and get out of the way.
On 27th January 2018, I quit smoking, cold turkey. I haven’t touched a cigarette ever since and have been clean for three years now. My grandmother was close to tears, my parents were over the moon and my girlfriend is lovely.
I celebrate it every day.
Smoking is stupid. I hope I don’t do it ever again.