November 29, 2007
How I picked the habit
One chilly morning, December 1987, in our college campus, I was chatting away with my classmates, few of them smoking cigarettes to keep the chill away. Another classmate, Rakesh, joined us complaining that he was cold after the 12km ride. Someone offered him a cigarette to warm himself. Rakesh declined...and showed us his bike's keychain, which looked just like a 'lit cigarette'. He put the imitation-cigarette to his mouth and took a drag with great style. It tempted me to try that 'act' and I did try. The next thing I did was try a real cigarette. The first drag made me cough and my eyes watered but the discomfort did not discourage me. The style was what mattered.
Soon I was a regular smoker...smoking 'More Menthol', a thin long brown colored cigarette. It gave a cool feeling...easy for a beginner. Few days down the line, I shifted to '555' and 'Rothmans' and then settled down with 'ITC Goldflake King' the most popular brand among students. So, I started burning my dad's money to damage my respiratory system.
This habit was kept a secret from my parents and elderly relatives. To mask the cigarette stink, I used to chew menthol-based lozenges. Another way to spend money to harm my health, this time the damage was to my digestive system. In the beginning, I thought only my mouth smelt. Later I released that the two fingers that held the cigarette smelt badly. Perfumed soap could not wash off the dirty smell. Even my clothes gave out the stale smell of burnt tobacco. I'm sure my mom would have got it but somehow she never asked me if I smoked.
I did try a beedi at one point of time...what a stink it gave out!
An after-dinner smoke was next in my daily routine. I learnt that my brother Deepak smoked...fellow had started much before me! So, I had company now for my after dinner smoke walk.
What made me think of kicking the habit
Health, of course! I noticed that I was eating less...no appetite. I was breathless in minutes while playing basketball. My lips were darkening. Smoking did not have one good effect on me. And I was spending money for all that! So, one day I calculated the amount of money I would be spending over a year on this habit. It was a huge number...I could have saved that much money or at least bought so many useful things. The thought of kicking the habit had formed!
Attempts at 'Quit Smoking'
The first attempt- I did not smoke for a month. I was surprised that I could give it up so easily. No!! I was back to smoking and I was smoking much more. At this point of time, Deepak did encourage me to stop smoking but he never spoke about quitting himself.
Second attempt- back with cigarettes after 15 days.
Third attempt- one week! I thought I'll end up smoking for the rest of my life.
We were through with our second year exams. Seven friends went for a holiday, destination– Kodaikanal, a hill station popular for it's cool climate. We took a night bus. One of the bags had several packs of cigarettes (the organizer made sure we did not run out of cigarettes). The last few miles of our journey, 6AM in the morning, winding roads and cool air of the hills, we were enjoying the breath-taking view and someone from my gang lit a cigarette. Six of us shared one cigarette; we couldn't have lit more lest our co-passengers threw us out of the bus. Except for one, everybody lit a cigarette the moment we were out of the bus. From that moment on, most of us smoked throughout the day but I carried it a bit too far. Chain-smoking through the day till midnight. We had a wild party- boozing, smoking, singing and dancing around a bonfire.
Following day, I had irritation in my throat...kind of burning sensation. After, two packs, my throat was sore...I was not enjoying smoke any more...I was lighting up less frequently. By the end of the day, my throat was really sore (I have no words to describe the pain), eyes burning and I was tired. The next two days of my holiday was a drag, I just wanted to reach home and get rest.
Aug 2, 1989 back home with a bad sore throat, so painful that even swallowing food was difficult. I just did not step out of the house for the next four days. I was feeling better. And I had not smoked for five days now! I did not even want to think about those vile things!
Aug 12, my throat was back to normal...it felt great! The urge to smoke was back. This time, the memories of suffering sore throat fought the urge. I had found the strength now. I starting marking the days, the days I did not smoke, in a calendar. I loved to see it grow longer with every passing day.
Sept 2, vacations over, back at BMSCE, my college, I stepped into the third year of my engineering course. One fact, I should tell is that we did attend college, not classes- most of the time was spent under some tree or at the canteen or at the basketball court...chatting away. Every time a friend offered me a cigarette, I declined...but the urge was always there. One day, I got an idea- what if I chewed chocolate or candy to curb the urge to smoke. I tried and it seemed to work. Then on, I carried chocolates in my bag. Some of my class girls supported me by bringing me chocolates. I was a star in my class. Back home, every night before going to bed, I marked an 'X' in the calendar, every 'X' represented a day I did not smoke. Now, it was fun not to smoke!
Jan 1, 1989 – Started marking 'X' in the new calendar...and on Dec 31, I had managed 365 Xs. I was confident now, confident that I could carry on like this. I used the calendar technique for another year to keep me going...
Some time, 1993 or 1994, I was smoking...cursing myself...I woke up from my dream. It was scary! I've had the same dream 3 or 4 more times. I was scared every single time.
Coming back to the present, looking back 16 years...